Sunday, July 4, 2010

ZZ Top/Lynyrd Skynyrd New Year's Eve Show Preview (1999)

(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )

Even as the thirty-five-year-olds they were when they hijacked MTV back in '84, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard--a.k.a. ZZ Top--were dirty old men. They wore sunglasses at night the better to ogle the Playboy models who'd pop up in their videos and whose body language said, "Why, Mr. Gibbons and Mr. Hill, what big beards you have!" Mr. Beard, alas, had no beard, but he did talk softly and carry a big stick--two in fact--a most excellent quality in drummers.

Although the high gear into which the band shifted with "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Legs" had begun to wear down by "Rough Boy" and "Velcro Fly" two years later, the Houston-based trio had already supplied the world with the following revelation: that Delta blues, Southern-fried boogie, and heavy metal sounded great when white-trash-compacted together and sent careening around the communal brainpan on a bed of the electroperkiest rock-and-roll synthesizers since Pete Townshend programmed "Baba O'Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Tonight ZZ Top rolls into the Cajundome, and those wishing to join their fellow "Tush"-lovers in roto-rooting the band into the next millennium had better plunk for a ticket now or forever hold their afterburners.

Concertgoers who fear that the group's prolonged absence from the charts might have rendered it insensitive to the needs of its female fans will find the mere mention of the group's latest album title--XXX (RCA)--reassuring. They'll also get off on its music, especially the high-tech hogwallow of "Poke Chop Sandwich," "Sinpusher," and "36-22-36," songs that prove Gibbons', Hill's, and Beard's favorite phrase in the Declaration of Independence is the one establishing the pursuit of happiness as a patriotic duty. (Further evidence: their live bump-'n'-grind version of "[Let Me Be Your] Teddy Bear.") Rumor has it, by the way, that the band responds positively to requests for "36-22-36," especially from girls who've got legs and know how to use 'em.

Whether the group will play XXX's best song, however, seems unlikely. It's a studio-as-instrument drum-'n'-bass foray called "Dreadmonboogaloo" that sounds like the Art of Noise lobotomizing Bo Diddley's guitar as a means of establishing a muthaship connection. Throughout it Art Bell's announcer Ross Mitchell intones "East of the Rockies ... West of the Rockies," and souls get sucked screaming into black holes.

It's really quite impressive.

Not quite as impressive these days is Lynyrd Skynyrd, ZZ Top's opening act. As those of us who were around twenty-plus years ago remember, ZZ Top--even at its niftiest--wasn't fit to lick the boots of Skynyrd Mach I. The problem, of course, is that Skynyrd Mach I hasn't walked the earth, corporeally anyway, since October 20, 1977, the day its founder, frontman, and brains--Ronnie Van Zandt--went down in rock and roll's second-most-famous plane crash.

Does Lynyrd Skynyrd Mach III or IV deserve credit for soldiering on despite continuing attrition or ignominy for exploiting a once grand rock-and-roll name for the sake of selling a few more overpriced T-shirts?

A better question might be "Is Skynyrd's recent album of all-new material, Edge of Forever (CMC International), any good?" Depends on whom you ask. The current seven-member lineup includes the founding members Gary Rossington (guitars), Billy Powell (keyboards), and Leon Wilkeson (bass), with Ronnie's brother Johnny on vocals and stage presence, both of which he's been providing since the group reformed in 1987. The guitarists Rickey Medlocke and Hughie Thomasson round out the three-guitar attack, with Kenny Arnoff (not Aronoff, Mellencamp fans) on drums. They're all as big, shaggy, and mean looking as professional wrestlers, and, if you don't listen to the lyrics, you might convince yourself that the generic Southern hard rock they offer up on the new songs is approximately where the Ronnie-led Skynyrd would've ended up at this late date anyway.

Maybe. But appropriating clichés (cf. the Johnny-led Skynyrd's "Mean Streets," "Gone Fishin'," "Through It All," "Money Back Guarantee," "Get It While the Gettin's Good") and inventing phrases so resonant that they become clichés (cf. the Ronnie-led Skynyrd's "Free Bird," "Sweet Home Alabama," "Gimme Three Steps," "What's Your Name," "You Got That Right") are too different things, especially considering that the means by which Ronnie turned his EverySouthernman's musings into rebel-rousing rallying cries nearly qualifies as alchemy. (To the extent that he turned them into gold and platinum--the title of what's still the best Skynyrd anthology--he really was an alchemist.)

Still, I admit a fondness for the new album's elegiac "Tomorrow's Goodbye" and "Rough Around the Edges," cornball though they are. And I have a feeling that when Skynyrd Mach III or IV lays into the Ronnie stuff tonight in the 'dome, I'll (probably) admit a fondness for Skynyrd Mach III or IV as well.

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