For Judge Victor Valdivia, "Fat Man in a Bathtub" isn't just a song title, but a way of life.
'Cause there's a fat man in the bathtub with the blues
There have many incarnations of Little Feat over the years, but for most fans, there's only one era of the band that really matters: the 1970s version with original founder Lowell George. As the band's leader, chief songwriter, lead singer, and lead guitarist, George made Little Feat more than just another blues-rock band. It wasn't just George's exceptional musical skills, but also his offbeat sense of humor and quirky sensibility that distinguished Little Feat from any other band of the era. Though George was accompanied by some talented musicians, including drummer Richie Hayward, pianist Bill Payne, and guitarist Paul Barrére, Little Feat was really his band, and it was his vision of an intoxicating (and occasionally intoxicated) blend of Southern R&B, blues-rock, and country storytelling that made their music unique even today. Sadly, the years of hard touring and hard living caught up with the band, and, in 1979, George disbanded Little Feat and embarked on a solo career. Only a few weeks later, he died of a heart attack. The surviving members reformed in the late 1980s and continue to tour and record, but while this new version of Little Feat has made some pleasant music, it's missing the magic and distinctiveness of the Lowell George years.
That's why fans will love Skin It Back. Compiling a concert from 1977, during the band's last tour with George, this DVD captures Little Feat at the height of their formidable powers. Filmed for the German TV show Rockpalast over two performances, July 23 and 24, the concert seen here includes the following songs:
• "Skin It Back"
This is a remarkable performance. Little Feat at their best was an extraordinary live act, capable of reinventing their songs and creating new ones onstage. This show demonstrates their abilities perfectly, showing off their impressive musical chops but also their discipline. Little Feat could jam, but they never let their improvisations overshadow their songs or go on longer than necessary. What's more, though George is clearly the bandleader and musical mainspring (especially with his phenomenal slide-guitar skills), he's generous enough to step aside and share the spotlight with Barrére (who gets to sing on a couple of songs) and Payne. Kicking off with a funky "Skin It Back," the show moves on through a well-chosen list of Little Feat's best songs, and while fans might quibble with a song choice or two (Where are "Easy to Slip" or "Time Loves a Hero"?), it's amazing to note just how consistently strong this concert is, especially since only two years later Little Feat was would come apart. From a rollicking "Fat Man in the Bathtub" to a delicately beautiful (and still witty) "Willin'" to the show's closer, a thunderous rendition of "Rocket in My Pocket," this is possibly the best representation of Little Feat's live power ever assembled.
Eagle Rock has done a typically stellar job of presenting this concert. Though the full-screen video was shot over thirty years ago, the image is surprisingly sharp and vivid. There's some fuzziness and a few video glitches, but this looks impressively sharp. Even more stunning are the audio mixes, two 5.1 surrounds (Dolby and DTS) and a stereo. The surround mixes are flawless, clean and loud but also well-balanced to show off all the instruments clearly. The disc even comes with some welcome extras: the original rehearsals (27:19) for the concert shot the day before. Here are the songs performed:
• "Old Folks' Boogie"
Though some are just snippets, the versions of "Fat Man in the Bathtub" and "Oh, Atlanta" easily rival the ones performed at the actual concert. Even better is the inclusion of "Rock N' Roll Doctor," which the band did not perform at the show. Fans should definitely check these out as well.
Skin It Back, then, is a must-have. Previously released under the Rockpalast Live title, this version gets the edge because of the newly unearthed extra performances. Though there are several live DVDs of the post-George Little Feat, this is the only one with the band's classic lineup, and its quality, coupled with Eagle Rock's outstanding presentation, makes it the definitive Little Feat DVD for both fans and newcomers alike.
Not guilty, and willin'.
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