First Council Hotel & Casino
May 2, 2013
Words By Jeb Wright
Photo By Marty ‘O
That Little ‘Ol Band from Texas learned what little was all about when their tour bus pulled into the tiny town of Newkirk, Oklahoma on the second day of May.
The First Council Casino has become a regular on the casino tour circuit, so bands with classic legacies, such as ZZ Top, are now stopping and playing some tunes, instead of just passing through on their way to the next metropolis. And why the heck not, as the money is good, the crowd’s appreciative and the event staff are excited and not jaded old rock farts like they are in many major cities.
ZZ Top were the only act on the bill, but that didn’t matter, as the event was sold out and the packed house of beard loving, rock and roll guitar maniacs were settled in, ready to be taken on a musical journey by the iconic band.
This was a special night, as the band was kicking off their USA tour, which runs through the month of May, before they head overseas for the summer.
Any time a band, even one like ZZ Top, who is into their fourth decade, has over a month off there will be a little rust and a few unexpected surprises. And this night was no exception, as Billy Gibbon’s Les Paul had a buzzing noise that he had to work around, drummer Frank Beard was playing more naked than usual—well, he was clothed, but his drums were just mic’d up, missing the gate and effects that became his trademark in the 1980’s, and bassist Dusty Hill---well, wait a minute…shit, Dusty didn’t do anything wrong. He pounded the bass and sang the high parts to perfection.
To be fair, even though there may have been the occasional twonked note on the picked out verse section on “Blue Jean Blues” by the Reverend Billy G, he is quickly forgiven, as the way he plucked the pentatonic blues scales, along with his unique style of mixing bass note runs with partial chords for verses, were, for lack of a better word, simply awesome.
The setlist spanned ZZ’s entire career from ZZ Top’s First Album to 2012’s La Futura. The in-between years included many songs the band has, as of late, not often performed including “Pincushion” from 1994’s Antenna.
Speaking of their latest album, La Futura, the Texas Trio performed several songs, all well received; including the rockers “Flying High,” “Chartreuse” and the best song they have recorded in over a decade, “I Gosta Get Paid.”
That said, it was somewhat shocking not to hear songs one takes for granted when they attend a ZZ Top concert, including “Pearl Necklace,” “Tube Snake Boogie” and “Cheap Sunglasses.” The crowd, surprisingly, didn’t seem to care, as Gibbons and Hill were moving in unison, sharing vocals, stopping, both musically and physically, on a dime, to end songs.
In place of the classics, ZZ trotted out “My Head’s in Mississippi” from 1990’s Recycler and “Viva Las Vegas” from 1992’s Greatest Hits. ZZ didn’t ignore the best of the best, as the crowd, predictably, went wild for “La Grange,” “Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Done Left Chicago,” “Heard It on the X,” “Gimmie All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs” and “Tush.”
It’s mind-boggling to think that these three guys have been pumping out their patented brand of rock and roll for over forty years—same three guys, same three chords, same two beards and that one beardless guy named Beard. And they still sound damn good doing it.
Gibbon’s vocals were especially fine, this night, his deep growl and snarl totally in the pocket. The only thing better than his vocals was his guitar leads. It ain’t nothing fancy, but just like a good bowl of Tex-Mex chili, the ingredients can be simple, yet if they are put together just right, and brought to a simmer, they produce a wondrous aroma and a gigantic flavor. Billy G was, plain and simply, on in Newkirk, OK. And when the Reverend is on, he is sight, and a sound, to behold.
While it seems that without any songs represented from the seminal ZZ Top albums El Loco and Afterburner the show might be a downer, it wasn’t. It just goes to show that sometimes the unexpected creates tension and excitement, for both the band and audience.
Still, the show was short at around an hour and a half—casinos want people gambling, not rocking out—so this was not your average concert for the band. It was, however, a blues rocking, geetar lickin’, drum pounding, bass thumping feast of Texas sized rock and roll. And, at the end of the day, when ZZ Top is in the house, ain’t that all that really matters?