When it comes to live albums, few can top Little Feat’s 1978 milestone “Waiting For Columbus.”
Bill Payne, the Los Angeles seminal rock band’s original keyboardist, says there are safer things in life to attempt than trying to outdo “Waiting For Columbus.” But blowing caution to the wind, they do their best with their new two-CD set “Live From Neon Park” (Zoo Entertainment).
“This band has lived and died over 26 years on a performance of music,” Payne said during a recent tour stop in Iowa. “I thought it was a good bet that we’d make a decent record. I think the general acceptance of this record has really been interesting to me because I thought we would get a little more flak just on general principles.
“I didn’t think people would necessarily listen to it because they would be offended by the very idea that we would put something out there in what they thought would be an offhand manner. Just judging from comments over the Internet and from a few articles here and there, people have listened to it. They walk away from it thinking, ‘Wow, this really works.’ “
It especially works on a rousing version of “Oh Atlanta,” which Payne wrote nearly 20 years ago on a dare with the late Lowell George, the band’s hallowed lead singer in the 1970s.
“We kind of had a contest,” Payne recalls. “We were arguing one afternoon in a somewhat playfully about the fact that neither one of us could write a hit song. Our idea of a hit song back then was something with a chorus 45 seconds into the song. I said, ‘I could do it,’ and he said, ‘No, you can’t, can’t, can’t.’ And I wrote it, and it hasn’t been a hit, so in that sense he was right, but it has withstood the test of time.”
Indeed. “Oh Atlanta,” one of the venerable group’s signature songs, has seen a lot of mileage before the upcoming Olympic Games in the Georgia capital.
“The first time I ever heard it at a sporting event, I was in Norman, Okla.,” Payne said, “and I don’t remember the year, but it was back in the ’70s and the Atlanta Falcons were in playoff contention and they went to a station break and they played ‘Oh Atlanta’ and I nearly fell off the bed. Now it’s being used in the seventh-inning stretch for the Braves. And I would wager that most people have heard it, whether they know who plays it or not.”
Little Feat will play for the athletes at the AT&T tent in the Olympic village on Aug. 3, the last day of competition.
“Live From Neon Park” is a truly a testament of Little Feat’s popularity and longevity. Fans showed up for a soldout show at Roseland in Portland, Ore., for one of the live sessions, amid hurricane-force winds.
“On the news that afternoon, they were saying ‘Don’t go anywhere tonight,’ and I’m going, ‘Damnit, leave them alone,’ ” Payne said. “Here we are, we’re supposed to make this record and it’s going to wind up canceled at least in this city.
“We went down there for sound check anyway and, lo and behold, we show up for the gig and everybody that was supposed to show up was there. It was wild, and they saw a good one.”
BWF (before we forget): The Little Feat album discography – “Little Feat” (1971, Warner); “Sailin’ Shoes” (1972); “Dixie Chicken” (1973); “Feats Don’t Fail Me Now” (1974); “The Last Record Album” (1975); “Time Loves a Hero” (1977); “Waiting For Columbus” (1978); “Down on the Farm” (1979); “Hoy-Hoy!” (1981); “Let It Roll” (1988); “Representing the Mambo” (1990); “Shake Me Up” (1991, Morgan Creek); “Ain’t Had Enough Fun” (1995, Zoo); “Live From Neon Park” (1996).
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