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ZZ Top
Orlando Arena
600 West Amelia Street, Orlando, FL
September 17, 1999

Although none of its songs lives up to “Free Bird” or “Sweet Home Alabama” (Lynyrd Skynyrd opened the show), ZZ Top proved that they are the “Little Ol’ Band From Texas” that perfected blues bar rock. As the trio launched into “Got Me under Pressure” from the multiplatinum Eliminator album, I smelled the first of many freshly lit joints somewhere behind me. Somehow cocaine is the excess drug I associated with the relentless rhythms of ZZ Top’s slickly produced studio albums, but the smell would continue all night. The stage was sparse, but in the background were huge, stretched-out, stockinglike white curtains that might have been leftovers from Christo-designed set pieces for Woody Allen’s futuristic film Sleepers. Sadly, a replica of the notorious red car was nowhere in sight.

For almost thirty years, ZZ Top involved a lineup of three men: guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard (the only member without one). Those names always sounded like fictitious yet aptly named cowboy aliases to me. Both Gibbons and Hill—the bearded ones—sported black leather jackets, hats, and, of course, cheap black sunglasses. With his skintight pants looking rather baggy, Gibbons could rival Keith Richards for the Grandfather of the Heroin Chic award. The roly-poly Hill plucked his two-note bass lines for every song. Beard was nearly invisible behind a massive, arena-sized drum kit, and like Hill, he played the same beats for every song as well; ZZ Top roadies could have placed a mannequin robot back there and the crowd wouldn’t have known the difference.

A band with many solid years of touring under their belts, one might expect a blowout performance from ZZ Top. But the elderly Hill and Gibbons offered only token synchronized dance moves, crossing the stage only a few times, but not much else. In fact, they appeared to move in slow motion for most of the show. The labored guitar solos contained about half the notes they did fifteen years ago. But ZZ Top can afford to coast; they’ve already reached legendary status.

Of course they played old hits such as “Just Got Paid,” “La Grange,” “Tube Snake Boogie,” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide.” The few times when ZZ Top announced a new song, such as “Fearless Boogie” from the forthcoming CD, XXX, the audience hastily ran up the steps for a restroom-and-fresh-beer pit stop. After all, everyone was there for the hits.

From rednecks waving Confederate flags, top-heavy blondes in low-cut shirts, and even a few bearded ZZ Top clones, everyone—and everything—was there. A skanky Joan Jett look-alike, decked out with short black hair and red Lycra pants, shimmied in the row in front of me. Another woman offered her best lap-dance moves as her two male companions frequently grabbed her ass. Even the security staff sung along to the ZZ Top classic “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” although I suspect the primary thought on their minds was to persuade groupies to give it up in the O-Rena broom closet. My friend witnessed a ridiculously drunk 350-pound biker lean against the wall, and, not realizing the wall was a good six feet away, fall straight to the floor. Undeterred, he proceeded to take off his boots. Not a smart move considering the floor was already soaked with spilled beer. And speaking of beer, the O-Rena couldn’t keep the taps flowing fast enough.

Back to the music. Roadies presented Gibbons and Hill with their infamous white fuzzy guitars for “Legs,” a tribute to their underrecognized pioneers of music videos. Was “Sharp Dressed Man” a satirical jab at the slovenly fashion of their fans? A band known for their look as well as their tunes, ZZ Top rocked on.

The final number of their three-song encore belonged to the bassist. Dusty Hill belted out “Tush,” the true anthem regarding the female behind. But I doubt that the large, middle-aged rears in attendance matched the high standards set by their videos.

Originally published as “Top Snoozes, Arena Loses” on the Orlando Weekly website on September 24, 1999.


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