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By: Sheryl Bryant
Photography by Scott Chmelar
The ZZ Top La Futura Tour brought the band to the Durham Performing Arts Center on October 10. ZZ Top’s 2012 tour started with a show in Chicago in September and will wrap up in Ontario in November. Hitting major cities like Louisville , Kansas City and towns like Huntsville, Alabama on this tour, the trio is making a major sweep of the United States and Canada.
The devoutly diehard ZZ Top fans at DPAC were anxiously awaiting the arrival of Dusty Hill, Billy Gibbons and Frank Beard onto the stage. This anxiety and impatience unfortunately did not fare well for openers the Will McBride group. The reception from the crowd was essentially lukewarm. The band’s performance was clearly not the problem. Quite the contrary. The Will McBride Group did a fine job with their short session. Will McBride himself did an excellent job on lead guitar, and it is obvious this band is very talented. Each band member seemed to have a good command of his instrument. The Will McBride group incorporates contemporary jazz with some pretty funky grooves. I felt a little Stray Cats vibe in some of their music and clearly Steely Dan ,Dire Straits and Santana are strong influences. Their originals like “Picture Windows” and “90 Minutes to Nowhere” were really good. The band opened with Dire Strait’s “Sultans of Swing” and closed with “Reelin’ in the Years” . The crowd did warm up and participate in the chorus on this Steely Dan classic. The band also performed another original, a tribute song to guitarist Carlos Santana, appropriately titled “Tribute” that I thought was impressive. Clearly Will and the band fill a niche in the Triangle with their brand of music. Frankly, their music was a nice departure from what I’ve been hearing lately so it worked like a charm for me. To be completely honest, I feel they may have been mismatched as openers for ZZ Top, and I’d like to see them perform in another setting where I know they would shine and be appreciated.
When ZZ Top hit the stage, a whirlwind swept through the crowd the likes of a Texas twister. Starting their set with a song from their new album La Futura called “Chartreuse”, ZZ Top commenced to throw down the boogie. The bearded bad boys from El Paso have still got their blues blast going, but have slowed down their pace ever so slightly. After 43 years of blues rock prominence, Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill know each other’s thoughts and moves much like twins share a biological bond. From synchronizing their signature swag and sway, the band’s chemistry is still in rhythm, it is natural and smooth. Throughout the night, the sound was powerful balls to the wall bluesy rock and I’d like to share parts of the show worthy of highlighting.
Making the show authentically Texas, a little bit cowboy and a lot good ole Southern boy, the Top opened their show much like a Western film. They called the film “Gang of Outlaws” and rolled credits with their names as stars just like at an old fashion picture show. A banner above the film title consisted of a pack of Tops rolling papers less the S and with two Z’s on each side. Throughout the film there were retro scenes of ZZ Top’s earlier years. One was a fire engine red 1972 Chevelle whose driver peeled into and out of parking lots burning rubber like a “schoolboy would”. The other was a tattooed Texas chick with a bandanna for a blouse; there were lots of shots of saloons, beer drinking; bad ass bikers and bad ass bikes; scrumptious looking Tex-Mex cuisine and everything that screams vintage ZZ Top.
Always defying authority, Frank Beard and Billy Gibbons each lit up cigarettes and openly smoked them on stage. Dressed first in black leather jackets and Levi’s like throwback ZZ Top, Dusty and Billy wore their traditional top hats and not so cheap sunglasses throughout the show. Frank Beard, the only beardless band member went traditional also. He wore his blue jeans and t-shirt just as he has each of the three times I’ve enjoyed hearing the band. Dusty and Billy did a change up in their apparel, opting to switch up two thirds into the show. For that portion of the show they wore sparkly jeweled jackets embroidered with both the yellow and red roses of Texas. Dusty wore his trusty pointed cowboy boots with spurs. Let me tell you, ZZ Top is still tough and bad to the bone,and myself and several thousand others were loving it.
At one stage of the show Billy Gibbons pulled a young, nice looking girl with a short dress onto the stage. She appeared to be in a state of shock (who wouldn’t be) and after floating back to reality ,she gave him a hug. She said she wanted Billy to ask her husband to take a photo of her onstage with the band, but the hubby was apparently seated at the back of the venue. Gibbons shook his head and said something to the audience and it sounded like “ It doesn’t surprise me, Ain’t it always so, a hot chick who doesn’t have a clue”. On the more complimentary side, he also said she had inspired him to play some hot blues, so the three guys proceeded to tear into “Heard it on the X “.
Frank Beard is still slamming on drums. Age has not lessened the intensity of his drumming.
Billy Gibbons crushes the competition with his lead guitar. If Eric Clapton is the Man for classic rock guitar then Billy Gibbons is surely the Man for bluesy Southern rock guitar. I believe it's the rugged snarl in his voice that really gets me.
Dusty Hill transforms a bass into a living entity. He has a technique that makes his guitar scream raunchy; his skill with a bass is almost criminal in its power.
ZZ Top is all about loud and big and the band rocked out with several hits. Kicking ass and taking names, ZZ Top burned red hot with:
“Pincushion” - from the 1994 album Antenna.
“Been Waitin’ For the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago” and “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” - from the incredible Tres Hombres.
“Legs” and Gimme All Your Lovin” from the 1983 album Eliminator:
“Tush” and “Heard it on the X” from album number four, Fandango
Getting down Mexicali style , from the Recycler album:
“My Head’s in Mississippi” The word Mississippi was cleverly replaced with the words “North Carolina” for major crowd pleasing effect.
“Tube Snake Boogie” Top was in rare form when they cut loose with this risqué tune from the El Loco album
Saving their most popular mega hit “La Grange” for the final encore song,ZZ Top lit up the venue with this hugely successful tune. This and other songs found the guys swagger and stepping in time dance grooves and guitar action still firmly in place. The show as a whole was extremely good. The fans were smiling and singing throughout the show. T-shirts were scooped up with a passion and bandannas were proudly being worn. The show was over by 9:45 and I kind of felt a sense of a whiskey glass half full. I could have used another shot, but I thoroughly enjoyed the drink as it was going down!
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