ZZ Top Constellation Field October 20, 2012
ZZ Top has been writing and performing music for nearly 45 years. Now, granted, there are a handful of other artists that have been around that long too, but most of them have a lot of baggage, the stuff of VH1 documentaries and that Oprah loves to talk about with her guests.
And while there's something to be said about overcoming adversity (even when said adversity is by your own doing, such as drugs, alcohol abuse, etc.), a life well-rounded is just as admirable, if not more. Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard exemplify this. They have managed to sell tens of millions of albums worldwide without ever hogging the public spotlight in a negative way.
The band members don't squabble with each other via Facebook or Twitter, they don't wind up behind bars for drug use or DWIs, and you never hear about one of them socking a pesky reporter or photographer.
Instead, this Texas trio makes a lot of people happy with damn good music. As simple as it might seem, it's a feat not many have managed to pull off in such a big way without a number of very public shortfalls. ZZ Top skipped all that.
Back in 2004, when Keith Richards inducted ZZ Top into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he talked of consistency and longevity and called them "the heartbeat of rock and roll." Eight years later, those words still ring true.
La Futura, their new album doesn't stray far from the sound we've all come to know, love and expect from them, but it especially evokes memories of their '70s-era catalog. And you know what they say: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. This band thrives on blues music, and while Gibbons was recently quoted in Spin magazine saying that they aren't afraid to experiment, he admits that they never stray too far from traditional 12-bar blues.
Their fans are perfectly fine with that.
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Saturday night, six weeks since the release of their 15th studio album, that little ol' band from Texas came home (to Sugar Land) in a big way. Funky riffs and guttural noises abounded, as the faces of everyone in the crowd made it clear that they were all thrilled to be there.
At 9 p.m., as the lights went out, a scene was projected onto the back wall of the stage, emulating a movie trailer. The audience was told that the following preview, while approved for all audiences, was rated "ZZ."
Whatever that meant, it got the crowd's blood pumping as a female narrator introduced Gibbons, Hill and Beard to the crowd. A minute later, the band strutted out onto the stage. Beard walked to his kit first, tapping his snare and checking his kick drum. Moments later, Gibbons and Hill walked out together, wearing their suits and shades, an overall air of cool about them.
My favorite part of the evening had to have been the trio's performance of "I Gotsta' Get Paid" from the new album, a reinterpretation of DJ DMD, Lil' Keke and Fat Pat's "25 Lighters," a Houston rap classic circa 1999. Few (if any) other acts could pull off such a feat, without upsetting enthusiasts of the original song or their own fan base.
Alternatively, ZZ Top succeeded with both groups. And they even got an advertisement out of it. All of a sudden, I want to drink Jeremiah Weed.
For nearly an hour and a half, older fans were transported back in time, while younger fans lived vicariously through their cool uncles, aunts and parents, as the band took us through its singles collection, throwing in a few lesser-known hits and cuts off La Futura to keep it fresh. A few grandparents were there with young children too, and I haven't seen that in a while. But when music is this good, you just kind of want to share it with as many people as you can.
ZZ Top isn't just a band; it's a state of mind.
Personal Bias: The way a lot of people make bucket lists that include things like skydiving, building something and learning to surf, I've made something of a musical bucket list. Glad to finally scratch these guys off of it, and I hope I get to see them again. Something tells me, especially in Houston, I'll get a few more chances.
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Overheard In the Crowd: "Uh, how-how-how-how!"
Random Notebook Dump: My friend, who went to the show with me, told me that, when he worked at the Apple store, Gibbons once came in and, with a big ol' smile, told him he needed a new power cord for his laptop. He was so friendly and down-to-earth, it didn't cross my friend's mind that it was Gibbons himself. Instead, he walked into the back and told a coworker, "This guy out front looks just like the guitarist from ZZ Top."