Under the ‘ZZ’ Top; Montreal Concert Review

If whiskey, cars and ladies are the three most favorite things in your life – ZZ Top is the band to rock out to …

The trio who benefited  more  from the age of Friday Night Videos than any other Blues and Rock formation in history – proved once and for all;

Top coat, top hat,
And I don’t worry coz my wallet’s fat.
Black shades, white gloves,
Lookin’ sharp lookin’ for love.
They come runnin’ just as fast as they can
‘Cause every girl crazy ’bout a sharp dressed man.

It was not just the girls who came runnin’ to the Bell Center last night. Bikers, Suburban teen boys, husbands and at least one nine year old boy  – all present and accounted for in an arena filled with Southern-styled Blues.

FRANK LEE BEARD, JOE MICHAEL ( Dusty) HILL and  BILLY F GIBBONS –  the only trio in music more popular than Rush, set the tone early.

Gibbon’s instantly recognizable guitar riffs combined with Hill’s equilibrium ( bass ) and Beard’s somewhat maniacal and steady metronome ( drums), aroused an already aroused fan base. Thanks to opening act, The Ben Miller Band ( another powerhouse trio), those in attendance were primed to rock.

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‘Got Me Under Pressure’, ‘Waitin’ for The Bus’ and ‘Jesus Just left for Chicago’ started the evening off. A perfecta to introduce what ZZ Top is all about to the novices ( TEN YEAR OLD BOY?) in the crowd. The three tunes – a summation of the group’s sound  over the years. Greasy Blues, commercial Blues and Rock Blues.

ZZ Top has done it all.

The diehards in attendance, happy from the get-go. The passing fan who only listens to Classic Rock radio, ecstatic from song four.

The quatrieme ? ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ – the song which arguably placed ZZ Top on the world  map preceded ‘I’m Bad I’m Nationwide’. The latter, a tune which ( along with Cheap Sunglasses) started Top’s rise to fame outside of Texas in the late seventies. ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ almost a duplicate of the studio version while Gibbon’s vocals seemed to get lost like a needle in a haystack during I’m Bad I’m Nationwide …

The interplay / gimmickry of Hill and Gibbon’s shtick ( top hat, matching ( sharp?) suits and matching beards), has to make anyone smile. Rock and Roll / the Blues’ largest ( and first) costumed duo, hamming it up as only partners for forty plus years can. Gibbons pointed out the longevity factor during one of his very brief ‘in-between-song’ banters;

We have been here numerous times in forty years. Same three guys. Same three chords.

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‘Pincushion‘ – the number one single off of 1994’s Antennae ( the first ZZ top album to contain a song with the same name), was a bit of a let down. Lacking the chord changes and natural progression and creativity of  most ZZ Top hits, ‘Pincushionlive’ seemed more as a filler. Monotone music for the mindless masses. A let down career-wise as well. The final cog in the 1980’s ZZ Top money-making machine.

Two screens framed drummer Frank Beard through the evening. Two screens filled with moving pictures identifying the themes of each song played. Thankfully, for the man / woman in charge of choosing those images – ZZ Top’s repertoire contains mainly three themes. Whiskey, cars and ladies.

‘I Gotsta Get Paid’ – Top’s last and most recent hit off of the album ‘Futura’, made all the  ‘under twenty- year-olds’ at The Bell Center very happy. The lone song a newer generation can claim as their own was played perfectly by the trio from Texas. Gibbon’s riffs as distinctive as all of the the band’s top success stories. Gibbons – without a doubt, one of the great guitar players of our time.

Flyin’ High’, a cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s‘Foxey Lady’ and a take on Muddy Waters’Catfish Blues was enough for the Blues purists in the house. ZZ Top, conscience or not – paying homage to their roots. Paying their dues to the Gods in the sky. ZZ Top were a Blues Band to begin with long before the long ( dusty) beards, the synthesizer sounds of the 80’s and the ‘flying through space cars’. Thankfully – they have retained that ability to play pure Blues. Thankfully  it was played out last night.

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The homestretch commenced with ‘Cheap Sunglasses’ off of the 1979 album Deguello. ‘Chartreuse’ensued and then the ‘big boys’ closed off the main part of the show. ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs’. Two stratospheric songs from 1983’s gigantic album ‘Eliminator’. 

All the former teenagers from the 1980’s stood simultaneously and welcomed back their youth via ZZ Top. 

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band (inducted by Keith Richards no less) returned for an encore following the ubiquitous and frivolous ( you know they are coming back?) standing ovation. ZZ Top did not disappoint. Sorta …

‘La Grange’ ( every bar-band and biker’s favorite tune) was played. That’s the good news. The song was not played in it’s entirety, that’s the bad news. Instead of allowing drummer Frank Beard an opportunity of bringing himself and the audience into a mesmerizing groove, the band chose instead to enter into the song; ‘Sloppy Drunk Jam’. A great opportunity to display the skills of a pure Blues band – lost to an opportunity to jam. Fun for the crowd, sad for the fans.

The final song of the evening, played in it’s entirety? ‘Tush’.

The band’s signature song to many. The ultimate grab-a-Whiskey-grab-a-girl-listen-to-a-bar-band-play-a-song tune. The ultimate parting party song An obvious decision to leave the Bell Center ‘faithful’ – faithful to ZZ Top the next time they come.

An obvious decision to allow ZZ Top to be faithful to …

Whiskey, cars and ladies.

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