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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Fleetwood Mac in Montreal; Time Stands Still …

Fleetwood Mac are one of the biggest selling groups of all time. Over 100 million albums sold. Not so bad.

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Thursday, February 5th 2015 at the Bell Center in Montreal, they showed why. And then some …

Christine McVie is on board for the first time in sixteen years. Sixteen is sweet. Sixteen is an even number and now – Fleetwood Mac are even once more.

During the almost three hour, no intermission, no opening act show, Mick Fleetwood, Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham displayed their pleasure of having the ‘prodigal girl’ return. ‘Complete’ was the word  Fleetwood used …

 

Seldom does a group come along which places all the elements of the music universe in one tight package. Vocals as harmonic as Angels singing in heaven. A battery section void of any miscues. Songwriting as diverse as music itself. Lyrics as poetic as a romantic dinner by candlelight. Guitar solos straight out of the best ‘ how to’ book.

Fleetwood Mac has it all ….

 

Rumours – that 1977 album which everyone in the world owned or owns, was the flagship last night. A collection of songs which defined Fleetwood Mac and placed them into the upper echelons of Rock music. A Fleetwood Mac show, because of this – is also in the upper echelon of Rock concerts.

The evening commenced with The Chain. A link to that glorious album Rumours which immediately set the tone and lit a fire into the frozen mindset of the almost sold out Bell Center.

There is something sinister in Mac’s music. An underlying demonic tone which offsets the vocals of McVie and Nicks. A combination of Buckingham’s guitar work and skillful songwriting. Add Fleetwood’s crisp snare-work – no wonder it takes almost every band four albums to match Fleetwood Mac’s legendary disc.

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1. Second Hand News – Played

2. Dreams – Played

3. Never Going Back Again – Played

4. Don’t Stop – Played

5. Go Your Own Way – Played

6. Songbird – Played

Track list: Side Two

1. The Chain – Played

2. You Make Loving Fun- Played

3. I Don’t Want to Know

4. Oh Daddy

5. Gold Dust Woman – Played

Nine of Eleven tracks from Rumours played in a two hour and forty-five minute set. Nine songs which, with eyes closed, placed a patron last night  back in the basement on a couch in the late seventies and dreaming of the future. As in Dreams …

 

 

There were …. other songs.

Tunes which gave the band re-birth with an album called Tango in the Night. A cleaner, post – vinyl Mac which displayed Nicks’ talents and almost placed her above the band.

‘Everywhere’, ‘Seven Wonders’,  ‘Little Lies’ and ‘Big Love’.  Four tracks which made purists shudder in  1987 yet are now classics in the songbook of … ‘purists’. The fivesome, played and sang last night as pure and true to Fleetwood Mac’s second biggest selling disc.

Stevie Nicks is mystical. Some people have that ‘je ne sais quoi’ component embedded into their souls. Stevie, complete with a black top hat – is one of those special people. Her voice last evening as defining as is her role in Rock history. Along with Anne and Nancy Wilson of Heart, Nicks was a trailblazer in what was ( still is ?) a music landscape littered with males.

Chrisitine McVie, compared to Nicks is as mystical in a different way. Grounded yet with an air of mystery. The Ying to Nicks’ Yang. The ‘regular’ voice compared to Stevie’s distinctive singing style. Together or apart, a duo as important to music as Phil and Don Everley.

McVie and Nicks. A pair who caught Montreal in the headlights of a speeding vehicle of talent. The Bell Center? Dead in it’s tracks.

Nicks may have won the hearts yet it was Lindsey Buckingham who stole the show.

Much has been written of Peter Green, the original guitarist in Mac who is heralded as one of the best Blues guitarists to grace a stage or studio. Buckingham is the engine in Fleetwood Mac. Buckingham is the ‘new’ Peter Green.

Much as Joe Walsh adds much needed energy to an  Eagles’ show, Buckingham does the same with Mac. His guitar solos unmatched almost anywhere in the record stores. An unsung hero who is hailed by those in music yet seldom mentioned among the best by music fans.

Time after song, Lindsey displayed piercing riffs with equal amount of old fashioned panache. Screaming into the microphone with wild eyes, dancing from one end of the stage to another, Buckingham was having fun. His head, his gigantic head, bouncing on the giant screen behind the band, comical as a backdrop yet poignant in it’s size.

Egos seem to have always been the dagger in Fleetwood Mac’s dartboard. Larger- than- life size egos not able to fit inside the Bell Center. Alone or together.

Last night, it is easy to see why as McVie, Fleetwood, Nicks and Buckingham all took turns in the spotlight within the songs. Each member capable of headlining on their own. Each one ‘stealing’ songs along the way.

From Mick Fleetwood’s manic drumming style and even more maniacal personality to McVie’s contrasting performance. Buckingham’s energy to Nicks’ mellowness. All of the members to John McVie’s best interpretation of a Bill Wyman invisible stage presence. Like Wyman, one of the best, one of the ‘real’ bass players.

An enigma this band. A musical lottery – winning group of artists who created timeless music and thankfully, continue to perform and astound the masses.

Evenly and oddly ….

Over 100 million times ….

Easily more ….

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The Stones – As Usual; An Event …

The Rolling Stones – fittingly, arrived on stage at the Bell Center last evening, practically fifty minutes late. Fifty and Counting …?

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As with every tour or show since 1989, they arrive in each city under a cloud of various predictions or guesses. Unlike their ‘solo’ contemporaries ( for reasons best left to the overweight, non – active, jaded and ‘I am stuck in a shitty life’ DVD armchair viewers), Andrew Loog Oldham‘s group – take the blame for getting old.

Non – gracefully.

Why can’t people ( veteran music writers raise your hands), accept the simple fact The Rolling Stones are continuing to do what they do best while struggling with Mother Nature and her cruel – aging ways. With the opening chords of ‘Get Off of My Cloud’ and the sheer presence of men historic beyond historic – everyone in attendance should immediately have tossed their critical pens into a vat of prime 1962 ink. After all, if a retired plumber takes two hours longer to fix a pipe – really, who gives a ‘wrench’ as long as the pipe is fixed.

‘It’s Only Rock n Roll’, ‘Paint it Black’ and  ‘Gimme Shelter’ were performed by the three – then four,  of the men who created the blue print. The template for everyone else to follow. How many people would pay six hundred dollars to witness Van Gogh or Picasso paint? Quite a few. Billions globally in fact …

The Rolling Stones have paid their dues. Enough to be able charge whatever they want if people deem the prices enough to witness history. Without their defiance – there is no Led Zeppelin. Without their willpower – there is no Jack White.  Without the Rolling Stones,  a society where popular music consists solely on Beatle and Beach Boy – driven ‘Coldplay’ and ‘Oasis’ tunes may exist. Imagine a world filled with nothing but Roses. Void of thorns. Void of spirit. An orb floating through space known as ‘ a weak peace – loving bunch of pussys’  by the remainder of the Rock n Roll solar system. Planet earth is blue and there would be nothing we could do about it …

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The Rolling Stones have done something about it for fifty years and last night, they delivered a concert at seventy – five percent of their one time ability. Through no fault of their own.

Twenty – five percent missing. With the exception of Micheal Phillip Jagger.

The brother of Chris, the target of so much governmental hatred. The brilliant specimen of a man in so many ways, continues to sing as if he was frozen in time. His voice, dipping wonderfully into the Blues, the Soul and the R and B classroom from which he graduated. If the Stones were not playing every three or four nights on their current tour, Jagger – without so much as batting an eye, could dance around his famed tongue with ease. Therein lies the genius withing the man. Better to tone down each show than risk burning out and fading away. Time on one’s side – one thing. Physics – something else entirely.

A glance around the Bell Center last night and with a Chuck Berry ear to the ground – it is easy to discover Jagger’s own words ringing true.

‘Wild Horses’, ‘Honky Tonk Woman‘, ‘Happy’, ‘Miss You’, ‘Start Me Up’, ‘Tumblin’ Dice’, ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Sympathy for the Devil’, ‘Can’t Always Get What You Want’, ‘Jumpin Jack Flash‘ and ‘Satisfaction’. Eleven classic songs played more often by the Stones in concert than the number of occasions Barack Obama has lied to the America People. Songs sung so often – a wonder that Jagger himself does not turn on the Karaoke machine and get Stephen Tyler todance for him.

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Every Stones tour, due to the very hard work the band put in for three decades, gathers moss. Grandparents tell their children and so on and so on. Thousands if not millions every year – wanting, yearning to attend a Stone concert to hear the songs for the very first time live. Eardrums losing their virginity to an inflatable penis long forgotten.

Diehard Stones’ fans do not like it yet – so diehard,  it just does not matter.

Within each planned concert set-list, lies the gems and the moments. The Keef – isms, the Bobby Keys’ Sax solos, the once – in- show moment when Jagger and Richards recoil to the two young boys meeting at the train station with Blues records in tow. The ‘Dead Flowers’, the ‘Emotional Rescues’ – the ( current old- now -new again) Mick Taylor riffs. Since the band first appeared in America in 1964, there is a fascination to see ‘the skinny guy with the big lips’ and his ‘scruffy’, unwashed  mates perform.

Every tour also contains the new songs. The tunes which – upon release, receive the ho – hum reception without the ‘glass of wine in hand’. The very same tunes which – once upon a time,  contained names like ‘Angie’, ‘When the Whip Comes Down’, ‘She’s So Cold’, ‘One Hit to the Body‘, ‘Terrifying’, ‘Love is Strong’ and ‘Saint of Me’. Ho-hums turned into ‘just more bullets’ in the Stones gigantic assault rifle. In 2013 – ‘Doom and Gloom’ and ‘One More Shot’ can now be added to the continuous war on the Justin Biebers of the world. A pair of songs which will somehow outlast the biggest hit a band like The Sheepdogs could ever shake from their soon – to- be dusty fur.

The Bell Center last night, rocked. The crowd rolled. The contingent containing the make – up of a family of Rock n Roll post – Pink Floyd picnickers – departed awestruck, pleased and ready to go back for more.

A feeling The Rolling Stones have left their fans with for fifty years. Fifty and Counting ….

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