Received wisdom has it that John Peel had stopped playing anything but punk by 1977. Not so. In February 1978 he devoted much of one show to songs from the new Little Feat live album. Recorded in August 1977 in London and Washington DC, the original double album has acquired some bloat on subsequent CD issues, although only the occasional overindulgence in jamming for jamming’s sake would make you press the skip button.
Like nearly all live albums of its era there was some retouching done after the fact but Waiting For Columbus is still one of the great live albums. One of the aspects of the band highlighted here better than their studio albums is the power of the rhythm section. Kenny Gradney on bass and drummer Richie Hayward pack a punch that propel songs like ‘Spanish Moon’ and ‘Fat Man In The Bathtub’. The latter song however highlights one of the few negatives, the very dated synthesiser sounds. The otherwise excellent version of ‘Tripe Face Boogie’ grinds to a halt for some synth that would be better off on an early Kraftwerk album. Taken against Lowell George’s slide guitar and the percussion and brass the synths just grate. But if you notice them then you are probably sitting still, which is next to impossible with much of the album. Even the more extended jams that fill out the running time of some of the songs don’t let the beat slide. For the ragtime style piano solo in the middle of ‘Dixie Chicken’ Bill Payne can be forgiven any number of rambling synth lines. Of the songs that weren’t originally included on the album back in 78 ‘Rock and Roll Doctor’ and the first version of ‘Skin It Back’ are the highlights. The version of ‘Skin It Back’ originally issued on the outtakes collection ‘Hoy Hoy’ is no match for the longer version.
If you are new to Little Feat this is probably the place to start, most of their best songs are here and the performances are pretty much all fabulous. Mick Taylor’s guest slot on ’A Apolitical Blues’ shows him every bit the slide guitar equal of George. If you only hear three Little Feat songs in your life then make them these versions of ‘Willin’, ‘Rocket In my Pocket’ and especially ‘Spanish Moon’. ‘Spanish Moon’ has the funkiest bass line ever committed to disc and with the kick of the Tower of Power horn section this one song distills everything that is great about Little Feat.
‘Waiting for Columbus’ is one of the few albums that I’ve managed to listen to consistently since its release over 40 years ago. There is just a joy about the whole record that is tainted only slightly by Lowell George’s passing just two years later. If you haven’t heard this album it’s time to catch up and join the band.