In what seems now as if it was forever ago, an absolute eternity, my first ever article written for Decibel Geek was a personal story based on that week’s current podcast theme, Power Trio’s. I chose ZZ Top as my subject matter and added the personal element of a ZZ Top concert story from the past which you can read here: ZZ Top-That Little ‘Ol Band from Texas. Thoughts of the friend from that story (who I still haven’t found contact with) running through my head, I was stoked to be attending the ZZ Top concert on March 24, 2016, the first time seeing them since that 1990 show. I saddled up with a couple of old friends that I hadn’t seen in around 5 years and off we went during a horrific winter ice storm to Casino Rama north of the city. The evening was filled with good times and laughter over all, but my concert this time around experience was a very different one…..
Shows at Casino Rama in Rama Ontario never seem to have opening acts with the headliner taking stage at 8pm on weekdays and 9pm on weekends. We seated ourselves shortly before 8pm in the rather far back (the curse of deciding well after tickets went on sale to attend) seats. At exactly 8:17pm two spotlights cast their glow over the two microphone stands near the front of the stage, behind them sat the drum kit with a stack of amps on either side as the announcer bid that we welcome “That little ‘ol band from Texas” to the Casino stage. There was absolutely nothing else on the stage. I understand that the casino stage is perhaps not set up to handle extensive props and probably the moving sidewalk conveyors used in the 1990 show have been retired, but not even having a banner backdrop with the ZZ Top logo made things look a little bare. The bearded trio (one in name only) led out with “Beer Drinkers & Hellraisers” and from up here the sound was terribly bass heavy, basically drowning out absolutely everything else. “Got Me Under Pressure” followed including a little in unison swaying with the guitars and the sound marginally improved as we went along, but Billy Gibbons‘ voice was still muffled and harder to hear than it should have been. A medley of “Waitin’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” took us through to “Gimme All Your Lovin'” followed up by “Pincushion” and I noticed it was unusual for a Casino Rama show that people weren’t flocking to the exit doors and by this time the seats were still full all around. You see the casino gives out a lot of complimentary tickets to players and as a result, you often get non-fans wandering in “just to check it out” and leaving by song three or four. Not tonight.
I reflected that ZZ Top is one of or maybe even the only band that still sees all original members in the roster from their debut album, an impressive feat after nearly 50 years making music for sure! Mr. Gibbons took a moment to address the audience, complimenting the room and casino technical staff saying “everyone’s so nice here” and joking about “making the big time at the casino in Orillia (Rama)” before “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” which had the crowd doing some singing. The band’s latest album offering, La Futura from 2012 supplied “I Gotsta Get Paid” during which some crazy fan bounced up onto the stage aiming his cell phone camera at band members as security stood by, ogling in what appeared to be total confusion. Finally, a stagehand attempted to grab the guy, tearing his shirt in the process and revealing that he was “jacked”, but eventually escorting him off stage. Billy joked about the incident afterward as they moved on with “Flyin’ High” also from La Futura.
I found my attention span beginning to seriously waver. Perhaps due in part to the seating position and actually sitting down (who sits at a concert, but God forbid you stand up at the casino)! Perhaps due in part to the sound, Billy‘s vocals sounded raspy, muffled, mumbled and very low in the mix but also it seemed sometimes that the guitar parts were out of place, coming in too hard on solos and making me wonder about the use of backing tracks. To make matters worse (not that it was too overly terrible don’t get me wrong here), I fully understand paying a tribute to your influences but with a catalog as extensive as ZZ Top‘s why the hell would you insert not one, but two cover songs? But that’s what we got next in the Hendrix classic “Foxy Lady” followed up by Robert Petway‘s “Catfish Blues”. “Cheap Sunglasses” sounded simply messy and not together to me but “My Head’s in Mississippi” and “Chartreuse” were much more cohesive, muddled vocals aside. The smash hit “Sharp Dressed Man” saw the reigns lifted and floor seated concert-goers allowed to rush the stage, which at some Casino Rama shows is allowed from the first note of the first song. While I have partaken in this practice when having floor seats, I still think it’s total bullshit. After begging, borrowing, stealing, mortgaging your house etc to get a ticket in the first row or two only to have folks swarm the stage front in front of you (if you’re not quick enough) really sucks. Either be a General Admission floor area or don’t, it’s that simple! The fuzzy guitars came out for a rather awkward sounding “Legs”, which I would have thought to place further down in the setlist. It can’t be the end of the concert yet they’ve only been on stage for just over an hour! But sure enough at the completion of the MTV video hit at 9:28pm ZZ Top left the stage! One hour and eleven minutes, WTF?
The trio returned exactly two minutes later to deliver a two-song encore that included an extended version of “La Grange” followed by “Tush” before the final bow at 9:41pm. I understand that you gentlemen are no longer the spring chickens that I witnessed in 1990, but a total concert time of one hour and 24 minutes is utterly disgusting for the price that I paid for my ticket, a headliner needs to be a minimum of 1hr:45 minutes! The only exception would be understood if the seat price had been more in the 20-30 dollar range, but at $70-$100 I feel a little ripped off by ZZ Top! A band like Saxon or Y&T (who are no spring chickens either) go out and play over two hours for half of the price you bilked me for. Disappointing.