BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN
ZZ Top’s Frank Beard makes playing his big kit look effortless, which belies the complexity of this talented drummer’s percussion work.
There’s just something about the electricity in a crowd of concert-goers just prior to a big rock show. It’s that certain something that stirs up your insides and gets you fired up for that first guitar riff or drum beat to come blasting out of the massive arena sized sound system.
Two beards, two hats and two pair of cheap sunglasses — oh yeah, it was all topped off with some damn fine fretwork from lead guitarist Billy Gibbons (above) and bassist Dusty Hill. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
ZZp Top bassist Dusty Hill. (BRUCE BUMSTEAD/BRANDON SUN)
On March 12 at Westman Place, that first blast of sound was provided by Toronto’s Flash Lightnin’. This heavy duty power trio did not disappoint as they made the most out of their 30-minute time slot.
The bass-drums-guitar rock unit cranked out a steady stream of riff-laden tunes for the crowd who were either just making their way into the arena or boogying in a beer line. There’s no question this band earned a throng of new fans with their warmup set for classic Rock Hall of Famers ZZ Top.
Talk about the energy of pre-concert anticipation! ZZ Top provided more than enough of that as they arrived in town last Monday morning a couple of days prior to their first ever show in Brandon.
There were numerous stories of ZZ Top sightings leading up to show time.
Among the confirmed ones were stops at the Shoppers Mall, Smitty’s Sportsline Lounge and the Keystone Motor Inn as well as an unconfirmed report of lead guitarist Billy Gibbons cruising around Westman in one of his classic cars.
According to Gibbon’s mid-show chat sessions, the band stayed at the Lakeview Inn and Suites and enjoyed a nearby eatery that Gibbons said was so far off the grid, it was cool.
However, apart from a shout out to area farmers and the obligatory "How are y’all feeling?" shouts, the between-songs chatter was kept to a minimum as the biggest little band out of Texas got down to bizness with a no-holds-barred, greatest hits type of show.
Let’s face it, you won’t get a much more stripped-down show than ZZ Top’s: Red curtain, drum kit, two video screens and two amps. Also, two beards, two hats and two pair of cheap sunglasses.
Oh yeah, it was all topped off with some damn fine fretwork on their matching guitars.
The bare bones stage setup is a perfect fit for ZZ Top’s understated, aloof and almost comical on-stage persona. Bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist/singer Gibbons’ minimalist choreographed stage moves involved swaying their guitar necks a few inches either way, and occasionally nodding their approval to the roaring crowd.
Further proof of this is just before the lead solo break in "Tush" when a roadie appears to light a cigarette for Gibbons before he launches in to one of his many smoldering solos.
This stripped down rock show was a hit with the 4,000 or so fans in attendance. Their style works well with their musical philosophy: all pocket, no frills. The only adornments on stage were those on Gibbons and Hill’s garish jackets.
That’s the way it was from song one ("Got Me Under Pressure") to song 15 ("Legs"), which surprisingly caused many smart phone cameras to pop up. The set also included a couple of extended blues jams, a cover of Hendrix’s "Foxy Lady" and the double whammy encore of "Le Grange" and "Tush".
Once an unusual, wildly successful product of the image-intensive MTV era, ZZ Top seems to know its credibility lies in its base skills as a power trio.
Old, thick-grooved blues numbers such as "Waitin’ for the Bus" and "I’m Bad I’m Nation Wide" were nice and gritty, and had more in common with the group’s new material, such as "I Gotsta Get Paid," with its super-uber bass drum thump and extra-gravelly Gibbons vocal (the song is actually a re-write of a ’90s hip-hop track called "25 Lighters").
Gibbons is one of the great rock guitarists, who manages to create a fabulous tone out of only a few notes. His performance is the essence of ZZ Top: a bit gimmicky but a ton of fun, and seemingly effortless.
Speaking of effortless, Frank Beard’s command of the drum kit was as effortless looking as it gets! He makes it look easy, even throwing in some smoke breaks between songs or while playing.
It must be that ability to make it look effortless that has enabled them to still deliver a live show to satisfy hardcore music fans and casual concertgoers alike for more than four decades.
The set cruised along briskly for approximately 75 minutes, which is relatively brief for a big rock show.
But that clung to the wise old showbiz adage about leaving ‘em wanting more…
Frank McGwire is a radio personality and booster of the music scene in Brandon and Westman.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 20, 2014