April 8, 2015 ZZ Top lookin’ sharp NYCB at Westbury, NY 3-15-15
The Texas tri0, Frank Beard (drums), Billy Gibbons (guitar/vocals), and Dusty Hill (bass/vocals), better known as ZZ Top, began their journey some four plus decades ago. They released their debut album, ZZ Top’s First Album and Rio Grande Mud in 1971 and 1972, respectively, garnering them minor mainstream attention yet setting the blueprint for the band’s signature sound. It was a sound their fanbase grew to love, with Gibbons’ fuzzy leads and distorted solos taking center stage, while Hill and Beard provided a solid groove underneath.
It is no secret though that Gibbons’ talents were already highly regarded as his previous band, The Moving Sidewalks, who had opened for The Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1968, leading Hendrix to proclaim on a nationally televised interview with Dick Cavett that Gibbons would be “the next hottest guitarist.” Fortunately through ZZ Top’s hard and persistence they would rewarded with their first top 10 record in 1973 with Tres Hombres. The album would propel the band to stardom, leading them to become an international sensation, selling over twenty-five million album, garnering countless awards, and playing thousands of sold out shows across the globe. Eventually, their success landed them in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
Now in 2015, the band remains extremely busy with an intirary on tap of heavy touring around the USA all the way through May. Having last visted Long Island, NY back in 2013 for a two night stand, Sunday March 15th found the band in the cofines of NYCB Theatre at Westbury. Configured in the full-round, the house was packed with fans ready for an evening of heavy grooving Rock-n-Roll.
Openers the Ben Miller Band, from Joplin, Missouri took the stage reeking of Appalachia in both appearance and musical styles. Featuring Ben Miller on guitar and vocals, Scott Leeper on bass, and Doug Dicharry on percussion, the band takes the backwoods approach to new heights as Miller plays thrift shop sourced banjos, acoustic guitars, and mandolins. Leeper keeps time on a bass whose sole string is constructed out of weed-eater, running from the end of a stick resting upon an inverted washtub. Presumably, this set-up holds an elaborate pickup system that is responsible for the instrument’s deep tone. Dicharry keeps the oddball flair going as he plays washboard, electric spoons, and a host of other unconventional items. Overall, the band put on an entertaining show playing a mix of tunes such as “Get Right Church,” “Hurry Up and Wait,” and “Life on Wheels” from their 2014 album Anyway, Shape or Form. Check them on tour with Blackberry Smoke through the end of April.
Taking the stage after a brief intermission, ZZ Top made it clear that their music would do the talking. Unlike their famous Worldwide Texas Tour of 1975-1977, in which the band incorporated an elaborate light show, native Texas wildlife, and live plants as part of their stage show, tonight’s stage was adorned by only Beard’s drum kit and two stacks of amps. All three members were cloaked from head to toe in black with Gibbons and Hill wearing their signature Stetson hats, their world famous beards reaching down to the lower portions of their chests.
Starting the show, the band turned to their most successful album of all time, 1983’s Eliminator to jam out “Got Me Under Pressure.” This prototypical slice of ZZ Top got the crowd buzzing with its pushy riffs and pounding bass and drum grooves. As they plowed through the tightly crafted tune, Gibbons wasted no notes on his solo, capping off one very upbeat opener. To the crowd’s delight, the band then played what is probably its most popular album cut, and a staple of Two-fer Tuesday’s across American rock radio, “Waitin’ for the Bus / Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The first half of the mini-medley incorporated a classic John Lee Hooker inspired guitar lead paired with gospel tinged vocals, and slick hi-hat work from Beard, all brought home with a piercing, intricate solo by Gibbons. The song then spilled right into “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” the second half of which is driven by a thick, plodding, relentless bass line from Hill. Gibbons strummed light chords, occasionally straying for a quick burst, until finally laying down a classic, fuzzy blues solo, before he brought it back full circle to a more laid back groove.
Keeping the energy flowing, “Gimmie All Your Lovin’” brought the band back to the ten million selling smash Elminator once again. As the band played the track the crowd gleefully sang along with the band as they displayed why a little over thirty years ago, ZZ Top were just as popular as Michael Jackson. “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” followed the Pop Rock gem and was a brilliant testament to ZZ Top’s chameleon-like savvy, and their renowned love for that American icon, the automobile. A searing guitar riff by Gibbons led off the cut, but was quickly put on the back burner and replaced by a simple melody, while the vocals took center stage once more. Gibbons sang about the band’s two favorite topics, women and classic American steel, accenting the night with tales of “Cadillacs, V-8 Fords, short dresses, spike heel shoes, and nylons,” with a brief, airy melodic solo augmenting Gibbons’ tale of cruising America’s highways.
ZZ Top then interjected two prescient covers into their set as they took on two acts seminal to their sound, covering Jimi Hendrix’ “Foxy Lady” and Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues”. For “Foxy Lady” Gibbons slowed things down a bit, grinding out a sludgy sound on guitar while Hill and Beard had the pocket sounding like a proto-metal dirge from the London underground of 1968. The heavy take on a relatively light song was very similar to Vanilla Fudge’s style of turning lighter fare into heavy rompers. With “Catfish Blues” ZZ Top let the crowd in on their take on classic Chicago blues, a sound that was the basis for their own brand of blues-drenched boogie rock, which propelled them to stardom in the ’70s. Dusty Hill and Frank Beard chugged along with purpose while Gibbons made his guitar wail and moan throughout the song, as he stretched the notes out to the breaking point before bringing it all back together for some more fast-paced riffing. Hill delivered an impassioned vocal performance, reminding the audience why it’s called the blues. It was a powerful take on a song first made popular over sixty years ago.
Closing the set, ZZ Top tore through “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs.” Both tracks have become staples on classic rock radio. Staying true to the album versions, ZZ Top played them note for note, in the process displaying the band’s uncanny ability to replicate what takes place in the studio under the hot lights of the live stage. For the two song encore, the band harkened back to their ’70s heyday and ripped through “La Grange” before the finale of “Tush.” A slinky, sped up riff inspired by John Lee Hooker’s “Boogie Chillen” brought a roar from the crowd as they recognized “La Grange” after a few seconds. Gibbons’ took the deep pitched vocals to startling depths for the opening stanza before the trio erupted into the melody. Tearing through the solo, Gibbons went at it one-handed as he spun around and saluted the crowd and the band then tacked “Sloppy Drunk/Bar-B-Q” to close out “La Grange”, as they segued seamlessly into “Tush”. Here ZZ Top put their own spin on the classic twelve-bar blues with an energetic, relentless boogie. Another classic rock radio staple, “Tush” had the crowd singing along not only for the chorus, but for all the verses with such fervor they nearly drowned out the band. Riding the crowd’s fervor, the band relinquished the microphone completely for the final chorus.
Steeped in the blues, ZZ Top has honed a unique style of Rock-N-Roll. While tradition is the foundation for the powerful music laid down by the band, their slick incorporation of ’50s Rock-n-Roll sensibilities, and heavy doses of boogie jams, has allowed ZZ Top to stay at the top of their game for forty-plus years. As impressive as their recorded material is, when ZZ Top plays live, the music becomes transcendent. While they pay homage to the pioneers of the blues, ZZ Top on stage is also an un-rivaled party band. Rock lovers looking for a night filled with fun, proficient, fuzz-drenched Rock and Blues, look no further than the gentlemen from the Lone Star state.