As everyone knows, the 1980s were the worst decade ever. Even another outbreak of the Bubonic Plague couldn’t have made the 80s any worse as far as new bands and music were concerned. Some of the best pre-80s bands faltered – depending on the source, even Rush came fairly close to splitting as a result of synthesisers taking over the band’s sound. Punk certainly lost out to the New Romantic crap, and in later years many of the original punks moved over to dance and pop, even though the so-called “ideals” of punk were diametrically opposed to those of these later genres.
Ooops! I’m digressing. One band which definitely went through an 80s phase was ZZ Top. I can remember listening to Top of the Pops each week and being driven mad by the lack of any decent rock music. But occasionally, the likes of ZZ Top or another pre-80s band would open a small window of decent sound, even though it was clad in typical 80s gaudiness. I’m thinking of songs like Gimme All Your Lovin’ and Legs, with their Eastmancolor videos and bouffant hairdos on the girls.
ZZ Top has actually been around since the late 60s, but I can’t remember them hitting it big in the UK until the very late 70s or early 80s, and as I say the 80s did a lot of damage to a lot of bands. Fortunately, ZZ Top weathered it – largely due to Billy Gibbons’ foresight, I reckon – and have continued to release new material. Output has slowed a little in the last 15 years or so, but this isn’t surprising when you consider that all three band members are well into their sixties now. Even so, the recent material has been very good.
It was with all this in mind that I’d arranged to see them on one of their UK shows – at Manchester’s O2 Apollo, last night.
First, a word about the support act, the Ben Miller Band. This next thing isn’t something you ever expect to write about – and I doubt that I’ll ever have to do it again – but last night I saw my first ever electric washboard. There it is on the left. Note the signal cable coming out of the bottom of it. There were electric spoons, too.
Oh, yeah. And I’ve seen guitarists playing guitar and drums at the same time, vocalists singing and playing flute at the same time, and all manner of other clever multitasking tricks. But I think seeing someone play trombone and drums at the same time is a first.
BMB is classed variously as Delta Blues, Ozarks, Bluegrass, Newgrass, Jug Band, and so on. In fact, all three members are multi-instrumentalists, and they play the sort of music that my dream of doing Route 66 one day would take in. I didn’t see any jugs, but I’m sure they can play one- and I bet there’s a ¼” jack in it when they do!
The other main feature was the bass player. Not an ordinary one, but a single-stringed washtub bass.
What mattered was the music, of course. And they were brilliant! Yet another case where the support band has prompted me to get their album. And judging from the reception they got, the audience felt the same way.
ZZ Top played several of their songs from the La Futura album (their latest), as well as some old favourites. The older ones from the 80s come across really well when you strip the videos away – this is just my opinion, of course, because I’ve already mentioned how much the 80s music scene screwed up my enjoyment of rock. They also went as far back as 1971 into their back catalogue. I Gotsta Get Paid is great live, as is Sharp Dressed Man. They also did a cover of Foxy Lady.
Billy Gibbons is a superb guitarist – I believe he is consistently in the Top 100 Guitarists of All Time lists – and the sound was crisp and clear. I was surprised that they only played a venue the size of the Apollo, which has a capacity of about 3,500, but it must have been sold out. I was also surprised that they only had two UK gigs, because I’d would have imagined them being able to fill arenas with ease.
The crowd was enthusiastic and there was a great atmosphere throughout, marred only slightly by a group of dickheads in front of me who had obviously had too much to drink, and who decided that dancing wildly without any regard for those around them was a good idea. I suppose it was until one of them nearly got his teeth punched in by the guy he was jumping all over. Either that – or the beer they were swilling – calmed them down after that. They then spent almost the entire show holding up Blackberry phones to take photos (it always makes me laugh when I see someone taking pictures on a Blackberry).
Here’s a selection pictures I took. I was close to the stage and they’ve come out well.