(Originally published in the Beverly Citizen on April 23, 2015.)
As prodigious session musicians, Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett probably have closer to 1,000 than 100 credits between them. To the extent that either is particularly well known, however, it is as members of the influential and enduring rock band Little Feat, whom Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page called his favorite American group in a 1975 Rolling Stone interview.
Barrere joined the band after the 1972 release of Sailin’ Shoes and first appeared on 1973’s Dixie Chicken, which was one of several albums on which Tackett played without being an actual member. He officially joined Little Feat for the 1988 reunion album Let It Roll.
While the résumés of Barrere and Tackett include some of the most noteworthy and popular artists of the past five decades, members of New Orleans Suspects can boast of having contributed to the indelible sounds of a handful of the Crescent City’s greatest music legends, including The Neville Brothers (drummer “Mean” Willie Green), the Dirty Dozen Brass Band (guitarist Jake Eckert), and The Radiators (bassist Reggie Scanlan), not to mention Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, and Professor Longhair.
Saxophonist Jeff Watkins cannot claim such Nola pedigree, but having spent a dozen years as the leader of James Brown’s band more than makes up for that. CR Gruver, meanwhile, is merely an extremely talented classically trained piano player who has the sound of The Big Easy down pat.
An occasion on which these two musical powers ended up in the same place would seem to be an instance of the proverbial meeting of an unstoppable force and an immovable object.
Well, this occasion happened on Saturday night, when Barrere, Tackett, and New Orleans Suspects converged on The Larcom Theatre.
The crowd was age-appropriate considering that the main selling point was the presence of members of a band whose first record came out in 1970. A few early arrivers reminisced of having seen Little Feat with founder Lowell George, who died in 1979 and who would have turned 70 this past Monday.
A woman wearing a T-shirt of the English band Blur’s 22-year old album Modern Life Is Rubbish may have qualified as representative of the younger contingent.
Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett took the stage together shortly after 8 p.m. with only a couple of Stratocaster guitars and a mandolin in tow.
Their hour-long opening set consisted primarily of Little Feat songs that one or the other composed, including “Down On the Farm,” “All That You Dream,” “Clownin’,” and “Church Falling Down,” which Tackett wrote, sang, and played mandolin on.
They did not neglect Lowell George’s classics, however, tossing in “Sailin’ Shoes” – which Barrere said was his favorite Little Feat song – and “Willin’” back-to-back in the middle of the set.
Before closing with Barrere’s “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now,” they sang a bit of “Don’t Bogart Me” (aka, “Don’t Bogart That Joint”), which is best-known for its appearance in the 1969 film Easy Rider, and a medley of The Band’s “Long Black Veil” and “The Weight.”
After a 20-minute intermission, it was time for New Orleans Suspects. The quintet immediately shifted into high gear for the lengthy instrumental “Blackbird Special.” Most of the group’s songs included at least two solos, be they guitar and sax, keyboards and sax, or drums and guitar. (I do not seem to remember one by the modest but busy-fingered bassist.)
Each member received applause for his demonstrations of musical prowess before the songs were over. After the New Orleans Suspects captivated the Larcom crowd for almost an hour, Barrere and Tackett joined them for a 45-minute set of Little Feat numbers such as Barrere’s “Old Folks Boogie,” the Tackett-George composition “Honest Man,” and George’s “Fat Man In the Bathtub,” into which New Orleans Suspects expertly inserted a portion of Dr. John’s immortal “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” as the stage was bathed in the glow of red light.
The second set – during which focusing on any given performer would have provided an entire evening’s worth of entertainment – closed with the obligatory “Dixie Chicken,” after which all seven musicians returned for a two-song encore that showcased Fred Tackett’s trumpet-playing talents.
Overall, the performance was a labor of love for all of the players and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the audience. Those who infrequently attend live concerts will find nourishment enough in this one to hold them over until at least their next outing.