December 28, 2007
Hard Rock Live
Better Than: Not having dared at all.
“ZZ Top at the Hard Rock?!?!”
“That’s what I said.”
“Wow! You know that’s one of the few bands I’ve never seen?”
“Really? So you’ll go, then?”
“No, sorry. I’ve got other plans.”
Such was the near-unanimous consensus after a last-minute cancellation from my running mate forced me to madly phone around in search of a replacement for the show. Not that it didn’t promise to be all that and then some – hell, the kitsch factor alone should’ve drawn a million “yays!” – but still, it was almost too absurd to be true.
“You’re going up to Hollywood to see ZZ Top?” seemed to run the refrain. “I can’t believe it.”
But believe it you must, because I went. And in my good pal Justin from Southern, I even enlisted a perfectly swinging replacement.
Unfortunately we didn’t stay past the third song. Oh, the legendary “little ol’ band from Texas” was certainly up to par, I suppose; it’s just that their par seemed to be a bit shy of above – not too mention well short of their heyday rowdy.
And I should know. I saw them then, in Hollywood no less, at a tin can called the Sportatorium. It was in the midst of their Texas Worldwide Tour, and, befitting the name, they came bearing boogie, blues, cowboy rock logic and, um, steer.
Well, those ranch days are long gone now. Sure the ranch dressing is still there, as are their trademarked beards. Ditto the beer-barrel boogie. Me being clean shaven and more akin to high balls, however, even at High Noon, kinda left it all one suit short of a gun fight.
Not that I can blame the boys. The crowd – 5000 strong – sat and stared as if they were watching a stereo speaker during the days of 8 track tape; worse it seems their watch was in wait for the next track to thump into play. There was no standing, there was no cheering, there was no dancing (unless you count the semi-impromptu line action from frontmen Gibbons and Hill). Hell, so far as I can tell, there wasn’t even any toe tapping. Hardly the kinda reaction one would expect from boogie band fans.
And hardly the reaction the boys seemed to expect either, though that didn’t stop them from being perfectly professional. It did though prevent them from being transcendent, and that, my friends is why I go to live shows.
So, no, I didn’t stick around to hear them sing Eliminator’s “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” or “Gimme All Your Lovin,’” and I wouldn’t wanna hear Afterburner’s “Velcro Fly” if it were the last song on earth. Nor, alas, did I catch them tracking back through the classics “Tush” (from Fandango!) or “La Grange” (from Tres Hombres). I did though get to hear the boys blues through “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” from about fifteen feet away. And it was wrought from the ache that made them famous. Yes, after nearly forty years I’m sure Billy and Dusty and Frank could do this with their eyes closed (and for all I know they did), but it did open my eyes to one salient truth:
It’s not easy being legendary. -- John Hood
Personal Bias: Like I said, I saw them then, when they were at their peak and I was most impressionable, so they’ve got loads to live up to.
Random Detail: There was one manic fan: a man who’s cut-off t-shirt revealed flanking Kiss and Motley Crue tattoos. On any other night I’d probably not like him; on this night he could’ve been my best friend.
By the Way: Chrome, Smoke & BBQ, the 4-disc set of London and Warner recordings, remains worth its weight in hard rock boogie.