When you go to a Billy Gibbons or ZZ Top concert, you are going to hear one of three things – blues, boogie, or blues ‘n boogie. And on a good night you might ever hear boogie ‘n blues. You want ballads? Go listen to “If” by Bread or better yet, “Sometimes When We Touch.”
Do you realize that ZZ Top formed in 1969 and the same three “little old boys from Texas” have been doing it ever since? And that the only guy in the band that doesn’t have a beard is drummer Frank Beard? And that Billy Gibbons in 2004 once said, “It’s just the same three guys playing the same three chords and we’ve been doing it for 35 years?”
Yeah, well, fuck me. So I guess ZZ Top is on hiatus or something. Despite ample opportunities over these many years, I’ve never seen them. I had planned to when they were touring with Gregg Allman but time ran out for Gregg. So when I heard that Billy F. Gibbons (as he now likes to be called) was touring I said “Hell Yeah!”
I saw him at the Tupelo in New Hampshire where I have seen a number of good shows. Not too long ago I met and talked to guitarist Al Di Meola at a meet and greet. If they had a meet and greet for Billy I would not have done it as I am neither cool enough nor sufficiently worthy. He would take one look at me and say “Which one are you, an accountant or a dentist?” and in my heart I know I am both of those.
Billy is touring behind his The Big Bad Blues album and the ticket included a free download. The album is fine but frankly, you’ve heard it all before and it’s those same three damn chords. Not complaining – just sayin’.
On this tour, Billy was joined by Americana performer Austin Hanks (bass, second guitar) and drummer Matt Sorum who has played with about 8 million bands, not the least of which was the post-Appetite for Destruction Guns ‘n Roses. Rounding out this motley crew is a guitar tech and player/harp player and – as we shall see – rapper with the unlikely moniker of Elwood Francis.
The show kicked off with the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin” a tune I first heard by Cream and which was initially recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern. (I am having my name legally changed to Hambone Jimmy Guitar to increase that cool factor.)
Anyway, I didn’t catch that one on video, having snapped the old phone into action whenever the mood struck me. Let me here offer apologies for any quality issues. I spent half my time trying to navigate keeping the ‘fro of some jamoke seated in front of me out of the picture and at least once we all suddenly sat down. But hey, you’re getting in for free right? So to quote Billy Joel, “Don’t come bitchin’ to me.”
The first song I got a video of is Billy and the boys’ cover of country guy and fellow Texan Roy Head’s “Treat Her Right.” Note the (I assume) soft-core videos from the ’50’s on the screen:
Billy didn’t tell any real stories per se (except for the one about the rum) but he was an engaging enough personality. He asked us if we were having a good time and we dutifully told him we were and he said to “Lock the doors and we’ll stay all night.” Alas, the show was just shy of 90 minutes but it was time well spent.
Here’s one of my favorite Top songs, “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” (And he’s bound for New Orleans.)
Elwood really was the guitar tech on this show, bringing different guitars out to Billy. But he also occasionally cut loose on gee-tar as he does here on the noted travelogue, “Route 66.”
And then, of course, the encore. You can guess what it was, or I should say, you can guess one of the two songs they mashed together. But the first one was a surprise and it gets really cool at about 2:12. But both songs are really about love, I’m talkin’ about L-U-V and maybe a certain house down in Texas.
For the record, there was an opening band (acoustic and electric guitars, sax), fronted by a guy from Maine named Dan Merrill who has apparently been kicking around for years. According to him, he flew down to DC to see Billy’s band on a suggestion from a friend, got to talking to the keyboard player and wound up being invited on the tour. So, there’s your networking lesson for the week.
I thought they were quality enough that you should hear them. They have a kind of jazzy, sort of Dave Matthews-crossed-with Van Morrison appeal. They went over well with us geriatrics. Give a listen:
Anyway, great show, loved it. It took me 50 years to see some semblance of ZZ Top but durned (as the stereotypical Texan might say) if it wasn’t worth it.
Billy Gibbons setlist:
Rollin’ and Tumblin’
Treat Her Right
Missin’ Yo’ Kissin
I Thank You
–(Sam & Dave cover)
Jesus Just Left Chicago
I Like It Like That
Rising Water Blues
Bring It to Jerome
–(Bo Diddley cover)
Just Got Paid
I Got Love if You Want It
–(Slim Harpo cover)
Blue Jean Blues
Let’s Go, Let’s Go, Let’s Go
–(Hank Ballard cover)
Sharp Dressed Man
–Whole Lotta Love