June 8, 2012
St. Augustine Amphitheatre
St. Augustine, Florida
Air guitar. Lots of it.
And rightfully so, because Billy Gibbons is one of the great guitar snake charmers, extracting stinging Texas soul the size of that grandiose, out-of-its-mind state, as if to say, “not only should you not mess with Texas, you surely better not mess with ZZ Top. You may even want to back the fuck up.”
Ah, the eternal charms of the boogie-woogie rocking blues of ZZ Top.
Pre-show was tailgating in the classic Florida style—plenty of loud ZZ Top hits blasting out of pick-ups and 70s clunkers, and high-powered motors running round the grounds of the St. Augustine Amphitheatre. Coolers packed with ice cold beer, and plastic cups filled with voodoo booze concoctions. Deep down in Florida, it’s a hell of a lot easier to feel at ease about smoking and drinking out in the open. It’s as if the thick and loose southern air has a kind of calming effect on the evening psyche. The sign in the parking lot read, “NO ALCOHOL, NO TAILGATING,” but we didn’t see anybody not partaking in the great rock and roll ritual of getting lit in the parking lot before a show.
It’s all good, so grab another brew.
The crowd was a solid mix of what could only be described as “good old boys and good-time women.” In fact, if it weren’t for ZZ Top’s home state of Texas, northern Florida could very well be TOP COUNTRY. Scan the classic rock radio airwaves around St. Augustine and Jacksonville and you’ll hear a ZZ Top classic almost as often as you’ll hear something by Lynyrd Skynyrd, Florida’s official state band. The guys in ZZ Top are practically local heroes, the kind you would definitely want to have beers with over some fried alligator tail on a muggy Friday night somewhere up the northern intracoastal waterway in a dusty old biker bar.
Take that Texas.
In fact, Daytona Bike Week, that week-stretching-into-months bike-and-booze-fueled bacchanalia, was practically invented for the ZZ Top fan: the beer drinkers, the hell raisers, the guys and gals who just got paid and got pockets full of change and are ready to spend freely on the pleasures of the night.
The scene around the parking lot before the show couldn’t have been written any better by local booze-soaked bard Harry Crews:
You got the southern gothic freakniks out in the open with the turquoise tattoos gone to shit that are spilling over their forearms into the lost years and concerts long past. The beer-koozied Islamorada women in the short-short denim cut-offs with the lizard skin and too many flashbacks of the wide open 70s and that Blackfoot concert that was the best concert ever. Over there, the locals with the bleached white goatees who are slim all over except for the oversized beer guts and the rambling red faces and the creased trucker hats that say something like, “JACKSONVILLE BAIL BONDS—WE BREAK ‘EM OUT SO YOU DON’T HAVE TO.” And there’s the Florida cowboy hat which is a totally different animal than its Texas counterpart because it’s been kicked under too many trucks in parking lot dust-ups and gotten beat up and bruised. And then the guys who look like ZZ Top roadies, or wannabe ZZ Top roadies, or maybe just the guys who couldn’t get it together before noon and needed that first beer to start feeling ready.
And it’s all good.
So the fans are well oiled and anticipation is running high. ZZ Top finally takes the stage and wastes no time barnstorming into the Sam & Dave cover, “I Thank You.” The band is cool and tight, in the pocket and looking as if they were amongst the best of friends. Billy Gibbons’ guitar sound is way out front, all thick and swampy Telecaster attitude. He is loud and brash and kicking everybody’s ass.
“Waitin’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” are rock solid and funky as hell and the crowd is roaring thunder as a light rain hits the amphitheatre. This is exactly what the crowd has come here for and they are loving every damn minute. Everything about the band and its vibe feels totally down home in the misty and humid Florida night, which may explain why the songs are so much slower than the recorded versions and make for a slinkier, dirtier groove.
The big time 80s hits sound better live than the sanitized MTV originals—what a revelation. There are no keyboards or that Horrible Eighties Drum Sound. “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and “Legs” feature the original videos playing behind the drum set and the fuzzy guitars are out for some of those now classic in unison ZZ Top moves.
So effortless, so good.
It’s easy to forget that ZZ Top has been unchanged since 1969. These are the same three guys who’ve been plying their rustic brand of southern rock blues power for over 40 years. And let’s give them credit for their solid under-the-radar mega-star no-bullshit kind of status.
The one-two punch of “La Grange” and “Tush” is a perfect ending to a great night of slinky blue jean blues and the rocking rhythm crunch of one of the truly great American bands.
God Bless ZZ Top.
Now can somebody grab me another beer?
I Thank You
Waitin’ for the Bus
Jesus Just Left Chicago
Heard It on the X
Gimme All Your Lovin’
Vincent Price Blues
Heaven, Hell or Houston
My Head’s in Mississippi
Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers
Sharp Dressed Man
Photos by the Rock File