I had never seen the boogying blues men from Texas, a.k.a. ZZ Top, before their show here in Phoenix last year in Dec. of 2012. If you read my review of that show, I was blown away to say the least. Seeing these legends in that small and just awesome venue at the Wild Horse Pass Hotel & Casino was beyond expectations.
What I didn’t know then, was that seeing them in an arena would be equally as cool and maybe even better. But let me just back up a bit before I get there…
The Arizona State fair brings in really great bands every year and sometimes I am amazed that the seats aren’t full to the rafters for some of the shows. Not the case here, in fact I am guessing that Fair officials likely got more than their fair share of frustrated, angry and disgruntled folks emailing and calling the next morning. The demand for this show was so great that lines literally wrapped around the large venue on all sides. What I don’t know was why they did not start letting fans in sooner, but by 7:15 (for a 7 p.m.) show, the lines were still quite long and even some reserved ticket holding fans could not get in before the music started. Something I know the folks at the fair, who strive to make the very best even better, are already addressing and will improve next year.
None-the-less, the absolutely packed house made an electric energy in the building that I know the band picked up on and gave back ten-fold. They came out roaring with “Under Pressure,” a song that set the stage for a perfect set that included fan-favorites, jamming boogie blues, a few covers and a newer tune or two that ended with two encores and pleas for more from fans.
What kept coming up for me during the show was the incredible amount of music these three guys were producing on that stage. And as guitarist Billy Gibbons pointed out, they have been doing this together for more than 40 years; one of a very few bands that can boast all original members since the beginning. He joked … “same three guys and the same three chords…,” well if three chords makes them do what they do, then that sounds like the right amount to me!
The man with no Beard, Frank Beard, was on fire on the drums and did some stellar solos and fun stuff. I really like the skull images on the bass drum heads. In fact their whole stage set of images were really cool. From the video that opened the show, the various clips from the old videos of songs to new story-based clips and other images, they really told a story behind the music that enhanced the show.
Some non-musical show highlights for me included the signature move Billy & Dusty do during “Sharp Dressed Man” when they move their knees in unison to the music, and when they bust out the white fur guitars during “Legs”. The array of guitars in all sorts of great colors and shapes along with some really incredible jackets the guys wear (see slide show) make this bearded duo just about the coolest looking –and sounding cats ever. But maybe the coolest move of the night was when Billy Gibbons’ road tech walked out during “Tush,” and inserted and lit a cigarette in Gibbons’ mouth -- now that is a cool mo-fo! And only possible because bassist Dusty Hill is the one who sings “Tush”.
Which brings me to some musical highlights … I am officially declaring that the guitar riff to “La Grange” is in fact the most bad-ass ever in recorded music history. It just is. Need I say more? The boys did an incredible cover of the Hendrix classic “Foxy Lady” that had me truly believing in possession. Billy Gibbons’ incredible vocals on this song sounded like Jimi had entered his body and was working though him like Whoopi did with Swayze in Ghost. And I can’t even explain the awesomeness of the guitar jams on this and, well…pretty much every song. I guess after 40 years, not only do you get better, but you’ve got to turn up the intensity to keep it fun and this yields nothing less than jaw-dropping guitar genius throughout a ZZ Top show. The many times Gibbons played one-handed – just the strings-- had me wowed, and the incredible rhythm bass Hill pushes out along with Beard’s flawless drumming make almost every moment a highlight.
So… now we know enough for me to share why I think this arena show may just have been better than seeing them in a smaller venue. After a chat with someone with the band, I leaned some pretty cool, stuff. I shared that I felt weird for thinking I liked the sound better at this show vs. the smaller venue last July. And here is what I found out…It has to do with Billy Gibbon’s style of singing. Because his vibe is more of a whisper-style, the sound can be slightly different in a small venue, it is projected differently. A larger, arena-sized venue serves his particular style, allowing his voice to be more amplified, thus, making it sound better to some ears. Keep in mind—‘better’ with this band is just degrees of awesomeness; I’d see them again in a small venue in a heartbeat, in fact I’d run over hot coals just to see them again anywhere.
Set List – ZZ Top. Oct. 13, 201 – Phoenix, AZ
Waitin’ For the Bus
Jesus just Left Chicago
Gimme All Your Lovin’
I Gotsta Get Paid (25 Lighters cover)
Foxy Lady (Hendrix cover)
My Head’s In Mississippi
Sharp Dressed Man
Jailhouse Rock (Elvis cover – sung by Dusty Hill)