ZZ Top Pleases But Also Teases in Ohio – Concert Review
ZZ Top put on a fine little show in Akron, Ohio last night (Oct. 3). Call it human nature or American greed, but there's still a few complaints we'd like to register with the proper Texas authorities.
First off, it must be said that ZZ Top, in particular guitarist and singer Billy Gibbons, are national treasures who should be witnessed in concert at every possible opportunity. Just as a hypothetical example: if one's wife was 40 weeks pregnant, and the baby's due date was the very next day -- you should (and we did) still show up.
It was almost worth it just to hear Gibbons' between-song raps about how he spent his day shopping at Akron's most unique stores -- apparently including our beloved Square Records -- and of course, each and every time he touched the guitar. The group played most of their biggest hits and did so very proficiently, as you'd expect. Just three problems: the sound was crap for much of the show, the whole thing was over way too fast, and the setlist and arrangements seemed pre-planned to the point of confinement.
The audio problems almost completely torpedoed the rhythm section, with Dusty Hill's bass and all-important accent vocals turned down to tragically low levels, and Frank Beard's drums sounding tin-can-on-a-string thin and 'St. Anger'-level shrill.
Here's how bad things got: at a bar after the show, UB40's normally intolerable 'Red Red Wine' sounded great, just... fantastic. It took us a while to figure out it was just because we were hearing three-dimensional music, complete with bass, unlike at the concert. (We checked this morning, and don't worry, UB40 sucks again.)
The fact that we were at the bar (listening to UB40) (yes, still with the very pregnant wife) just slightly past 9:00, after attending a show that started at 7:45 was also problematic. Not that we're into three-hour marathons or clock-watching... but wait a minute, where was 'Cheap Sunglasses' or 'I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide?' For that matter, why spend years making a pretty darn good new album like 'La Futura' if you're not gonna take a few of those songs on the road and see what kinda legs they got? All we got was the single, 'I Gotsta Get Paid.'
But the biggest problem was the seeming lack of spontaneity or looseness in the performances. The overly precise, non-swinging rhythms that cropped up in too much of the band's post-'Eliminator' recorded work still seemed to be in charge at this concert - even on songs predating the computers, like 'Thank You' or 'Jesus Just Left Chicago.' The image in one's head is of humans trying to keep pace with unforgiving machines.
Thing is, the one time the group really cut loose from their self-imposed and presumably fictional robot overlords -- on a searing performance of 'Vincent Price Blues,' from 1996's 'Rhythmeen' -- really did make the whole evening worthwhile. ZZ Top roamed, screamed, snarled and swung just like they were supposed to, with Gibbons putting the cherry on top by unleashing a positively nasty one-handed guitar solo.
The fact that we found a half-dozen examples on YouTube of the same dazzling display of chops and showmanship from recent shows does nothing to diminish it's impact on our memory. Our solo didn't sound exactly like this one below; it was unique, alive, and just for us. We just wanted more of the night to feel like that.
Postscript - the baby was born two days later; she's happy and healthy and already loves rock and roll.
Watch ZZ Top Play 'Vincent Price Blues'