ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JUNE 5, 1997
Strolling over the Georgia Viaduct en route to GM Place last Sunday (June 1), I gazed down at the arena’s parking lot to see what kind of fancy tour buses ZZ Top is travelling in these days. I expected to see an outline of Texas on the side of one, or maybe some steer horns on a grill, but the only signs that these shiny rigs were rock-star material were the white satellite dishes on the roofs. I suppose after 25 years of touring, the capacity of dominoes and Chinese checkers to provide on-road thrills wears out. Not only that, but I’ll bet the good ol’ boys in the band get easy access to the Tush Channel with those high-tech woks.
What the ‘little old band from Texas’ does have trouble with these days is pulling in a large crowd, at least in these northerly parts. I thought GMP looked rather empty for Rush a coupla weeks back, but it was much more barren this night, with only 6,000 paid attendance. It’s a good thing ZZ Top’s merchandise hawkers have the nerve to charge 32 bucks for baseball hats, or the band—which was one of North America’s biggest concert draws in the ’80s—might soon be forced to pawn off those satellite dishes.
Adios, Tush Channel.
If I’m sounding overly snarky toward Billy Gibbons and company, it’s just that, having thoroughly enjoyed them on the lean ’n’ mean Fandango tour of ’75 and showbizzy Eliminator tour of ’84—and less on the effects-filled Recycler tour of ’90—I find it painful to see how far they’ve fallen on the Rhythmeen tour of today. I realize they’re getting old, but that’s no excuse to take their bearded Rip Van Winkle look to heart and sleep through the first half of the gig.
The stage looked cool with its adobe-type huts on each end, but apart from the players using them as a handy entrance, nothing happened with them. And the run-of-the-mill lighting did little to enhance the dynamics of the show. But the weakest link in the whole affair was the poorly thought-out set list. The band only played one song from its best album, Tres Hombres, instead relying on slogging time-wasters like “Bang Bang Shang-a-lang” or whatever the hell it’s called.
The typically troubling acoustics of GM Place didn’t help matters any, but ZZ Top’s soundmen deserve credit for getting a decent handle on it partway through the gig. They couldn’t do anything about the delayed echo, though, which made it seem as if there were drummers banging away at both ends of the building. Maybe the venue’s owners, who also own the Canucks, should unload Pavel Bure and use whatever funds they get to install some echo-absorbing baffles. If they want this place to continue as the loud-rock venue of choice among promoters, they’d better do something.
By saving the best for last and ending its set with “Sharp Dressed Man”, ZZ got the previously restrained crowd riled up enough to force an encore, which the band—now sporting silver-sequinned jackets—took full advantage of with the lusty showstoppers “La Grange” and “Tush”. But the fact that the group boogied out on a high note hardly made up for the preceding 80 minutes of mediocrity.