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Funky Little Feat brings down the house

The band looked a little bit tired, and the audience looked a tad worse for wear, too.

This was New Year's Day, after all, and many appeared to have endured a significant bacchanal the night previous. No matter. Little Feat came to the Bear's Den in the Seneca Niagara Casino and simply killed it.

One of the hippest bands to emerge from the '70s, the Feat can be divided into two distinct periods, based on the tenure of founding member Lowell George, who left the band in the middle of that decade. The monumental Little Feat albums were created during George's tenure, but the band has endured without their former frontman, who died prior to the dawn of the '80s.

Today, Little Feat appear as founding fathers of the jam band scene, even if their particular brand of jamming involves everything from folk to jazz, primal rock 'n' roll to more esoteric balladry.

Mostly, though, the band is just plain funky. From the beginning, it managed to marry strong, well-structured songwriting to a loose, laid-back, but incredibly soulful feel. The version of the band that brought down the house in the Bear's Den on Saturday -- founding member Bill Payne on piano, vocalist/guitarist Paul Barrere, guitarist/vocalist/mandolin player Fred Tackett, bassist Kenny Gradney, drummer Gabe Ford and percussionist/vocalist Sam Clayton -- has lost none of that original vibe. In fact, they may well have deepened their understanding of it.

Little Feat normally plays two sets of material in an evening, but the casino gig involved one long set and a sizable encore. At times, there were problems with the sound, mostly involving a paucity of low-end in the mix -- basically, the kick drum and bass guitar were a tad soft. Whatever. Nothing could stop these grooves, and nothing did.

The highlight and centerpiece of the set was certainly "Spanish Moon," a seriously lowdown groove evoking New Orleans funk and a vehicle for both the rhythm section's locomotive-like lockstep and elegant extrapolations from Barrere, Tackett and Payne. In fact, Payne was a wonder to behold all night. Like the Band's Garth Hudson -- appropriately, Little Feat covered the Band's "The Weight" during Saturday's show -- Payne wove interesting lines into the band's songs, evoking classical, blues, jazz, and some hybrid variation of all of them at various points in the evening. He is one of the most interesting rock pianists extant.

Of course, you got your "Don't Bogart That Joint" (dedicated to original drummer Richie Hayward, a legendary skinsman who died last year) as well as evergreen pieces like "Dixie Chicken," "Mellow Down Easy" and "Fat Man in the Bathtub."

A trifle short, perhaps, but Little Feat's New Year's Day show was incredibly sweet.

e-mail: jmiers@buffnews.com

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>Concert Review

Little Feat

Friday in Seneca Niagara Casino.