Billy Gibbons gets ornery in Vancouver on ZZ Top’s Afterburner Tour


mila geran photo


By Steve Newton

Shortly before his death, somebody asked Jimi Hendrix if he knew of any up-and-coming guitarists to watch out for. One of the players Hendrix mentioned was Billy Gibbons.

Sixteen years later, Gibbons is living up to Jimi’s expectations. At the moment, his guitar is the driving force behind the world’s most popular blues-based boogie band, ZZ Top, the Texas trio that shook the Coliseum Sunday and Monday. Gibbons’ searing “blow-your-top” stringwork is recognized all across the planet–by rowdy, fist-throwing teens and mature musicians alike. Seated to my left in the pressbox was a 30-year-old country player, to my right a Twisted Sister fanatic, and just in front was Loverboy guitarist Paul Dean, whose binoculars had a steady bead on Gibbons’ hands throughout the concert.

Monday’s show started when the lights went up on a huge, gold-coloured pharoah, with laser beam eyes, set in the middle of a red dashboard–complete with steering wheel, radio, illuminated dials, and glove compartment. Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill hit the stage in long black coats, white baseball caps, and their trademark 12-inch beards, and–with drummer Frank Beard pounding along–started into “Got Me Under Pressure”, a song from their multiplatinum Eliminator album of ’83.

“Sleeping Bag”, one of the first singles off their new album, Afterburner, came next, and with it one young fellow managed to crawl over the barricade at the foot of the stage and have a second of glory on stage before a security man grabbed a leg and dragged him off. Two songs from ZZ’s ’73 LP, Tres Hombres, followed, “Waitin’ For the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” (“Then he went up to Vancouver”) before Gibbons cried “Lookout!” and the familiar drum intro kicked off “Gimme All Your Lovin”.

For the next tune, “Ten Foot Pole”, Gibbons got a little ornery, flipping his guitar over and making scratchy noises by rubbing it up and down his zipper. “Manic Mechanic”, with its robot-ish vocal effect was next, then Dusty Hill took over the lead vocals for “Heard It On the X”, from ’75’s half-live Fandango.

“How about a little blues for ya this evening!” Gibbons shouted, and the mellow (by ZZ’s standards) “Rough Boy” drifted off the stage. Tunes like “Cheap Sunglasses”, “Arrested for Driving While Blind”, and “Party on the Patio” followed, before the furry white guitars–made famous in the “Legs” video–were brought out for that song.

For “Planet of Women”, another new tune, the hot rod interior switched to that of a spaceship–the dials became all computerized-looking and the steering wheel changed shape. “Time to put on those good lookin’ threads,” announced Gibbons as the band ripped into yet another hit from Eliminator, “Sharp Dressed Man”.

Then video equipment was brought out, stagefront lights turned on, and Billy said “Y’all gonna be on television.” It seems that Vancouver is one of ZZ Top’s favourite places to play, so they decided to make their next video here, of a song called “Stages”. Two more new tunes followed, “Can’t Stop Rockin'” and “Delirious”, and then the band left the stage.

But not for long. When they came back Gibbons declared “We ain’t goin’ nowhere. Just had to get a little drink a water!” “Velcro Fly”, “Tubesnake Boogie”, “La Grange”, and the finale “Tush” (with Gibbons’ biting slide) made up the encore. It all ended with heavy dry ice, confetti, and a blast of sparks.

Southern hospitality…Texas style.



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