‘An Evening with Bill Payne’ at The Birchmere by Mike Spain

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FOUR STARS
Bill Payne started out his show Sunday night stating he was going to play the show like he was in his “living room.” It fit the crowd perfectly that consisted of long-time fans, friends, and even an old neighbor. The show was more of an artistic journey than a concert. However, music was the primary art form.
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Payne started the first set by himself. He introduced his old neighbor in the crowd (I believe her name was Dixie), and he jumped down off-stage and gave her a hug. He played some piano riffs and told stories, while his personal photographs enhanced the stories and the songs. He talked about piano lessons when he was five, and played “Davy Crockett,” which was one of the first songs he learned to play.

The first set was more riffs and stories than songs, but he told great stories about recording “Everything I Do” with Bryan Adams and how the piano had a key that didn’t work right. He performed a song he wrote with Lowell George (one of the founding members of Little Feat) that was never released called “Feathers and a Smile,” which was beautiful. Next came “Devil in Your Smile” and a unreleased song about the Delaware River- he wrote with lyricist Robert Hunter of Grateful Dead- fame.

I really liked the song he wrote with his son called “Dust and Bones,” in which drummer Gabe Ford joined him. Gabe really shined on the instrumental they played where Gabe had an extended solo. Bill Payne’s photographs were highlighted as Bill recited a poem “All Out of Innocence” over a recording of his instrumental piece “Through the Eyes of a Child.” I would have preferred he played the music live but the poem was touching and his photography showed great diversity. One of the biggest highlights of the first set was Payne performing “Cat Fever,” which was an older Little Feat tune.

Gabe Ford. Photo courtesy of Little Feat website.
Gabe Ford. Photo courtesy of Little Feat website.

The second set was much better with Payne starting off with a blues song called “Louisiana.” He followed that with “The Blues Keep Coming” off of Little Feat’s latest album Rooster Rag. He played another song he wrote with Robert Hunter called “Bluegrass Pines, followed by “If I Had a Mine To,” which sounded like it could easily fit on a Little Feat album.

The night had an intimate and a relaxing feel to it. That would continue with a twenty- minute question and answer session lead by Bill Payne and Joe Rocco, Little Feat’s long-time driver. The questions’ topics ranged from Lowell George, Payne’s songs, and other artists including Bonnie Raitt, Bruce Springsteen, and Elton John. Rocco told an interesting story about traveling to the top of a Colorado mountain with the semi for the band and knocking down a boulder the size of a Volkswagen.

Billy Thompson.
Billy Thompson.

Payne finished the show with special guest Billy Thompson joining Gabe and him on stage for a few songs. Thompson is a fantastic blues guitarist who has made the DC area his home. They jammed on Little Feat’s “Rooster Rag” and “Tripe Face Boogie” to end the show. The crowd gave a standing ovation to Payne as he tried to say good night. An audience member told him he had to play “Oh, Atlanta” before he left, and Payne agreed to play it to the delight of the crowd. Bill Payne continued the intimate vibes of the evening by agreeing to sign autographs after the show.

The three hour show really highlighted Bill Payne as an artist. His stories, photographs, and music took the audience on a journey from his beginnings, to some of his session work, to what he is working on now, and back to the band he is famous for – Little Feat. The set featured a lot of unreleased songs, and the Little Feat songs he performed were deep tracks except for “Oh Atlanta.” The set also brought Bill’s vocals to the forefront along with his renowned keyboards and piano skills. The show lacked the vibe of a Little Feast concert, but replaced it with ‘living room’ comfort.

Running time: Three hours, with one intermission.

Bill Payne played one night on June 23, 2013 at The Birchmere – 3701 Mount Vernon Avenue, in Alexandria, Virginia. A list of upcoming shows can be found on The Birchmere’s website.

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Read my interview with Bill Payne.