ZZ Top: Westbury, NY, August 29, 2011
NYCB Theater at Westbury
August 29, 2011
Originally scheduled for Sunday, August 28, 2011, (after carefully reviewing the projected trajectory of Hurricane Irene), venue officials, Nassau County executives and band management agreed to delay ZZ Top's Long Island appearance until the storm had passed. The band released a message on Facebook and to the media which stated, "Coming from Houston as we do, deep in the heart of hurricane alley, we're certainly attuned to the perils that Irene might beget. We're more than happy to give her an extra day to pass to ensure our fans can safely make it out to see us and we can say 'Hello Westbury and Goodnight Irene.'" With the severe weather, wind and rain surge of the killer storm having finally left the Long Island area, ZZ Top's appearance at The NYCB Theater at Westbury (formerly The Westbury Music Fair) was green-lit for Monday evening, August 29, 2011.
The evening began with the crowd milling about the Westbury arena's parking lot, checking to see if friends both old and new had weathered the storm alright, purchasing bootleg concert T-shirts and tailgating while basking in the cool rays of the setting sun. Inside, ZZ Top's dedicated fan base was abuzz with anticipation, as many stopped at the merchandise table while on their way to their seats. The small intimate arena (no seat is further than 60 feet from the stage) occasionally offers concerts "in the round" with the revolving stage set in its center. Fans were shrieking with delight when, as they left the lobby and entered the seating area, they were greeted by the sight of the center-stage setup to rotate.
As the clock struck 8:00 pm, Nashville, TN's own The Cadillac Black took the stage. Announcing that their music was what they like to call country-fuzz, the three-piece band began its set. Far from country and much more defined than fuzz, the band's music was definitely southern and rocking, however, it was the textures and intelligent clever lyrics which brought the jaded audience into its corner. With strong songs like "Tennessee Mojo," "I'm Southern" and "Down To The River," The Cadillac Black is a force with which to be reckoned. When the band's stage presenceguitarist/lead vocalist Jaren Johnston, drummer Neil Mason, and guitarist/lap steel guitarist Kelby Rayis combined with its energy and strong robust sound, it is obvious why ZZ Top had handpicked the group to open on this tour. Before launching into the last song, Joshnston expressed his sincere thanks to "Billy, Dusty and Frank for having us on the tour." He then invited everyone in the audience to stop by the merchandise booth in to lobby to say hello; when last seen, Johnston and Mason were shaking many a hand in the venue's lobby area.
After a short intermission ZZ Top hit the stage with "Got Me Under Pressure." After four decades together, the band looked as they have always looked: bassist Dusty Hill wore his trademark cowboy hat, guitarist Billy Gibbons was dressed entirely in black, from his self-described funny hat to his toes, and drummer Frank Beard sat confidently behind a massive customized drum kit covered with skulls and what appeared to be motorcycle parts, while featuring no less the ten cymbals, numerous tom toms and a double-bass drum.
While the stage revolved, Gibbons and Hill stepped to the front and began to sway, juke and dance synchronously as their trademark beards flowed gently in the artificial breeze. The band was in excellent form both musicallyGibbons' clean leads and the rhythms laid down by Hill and Beard were tight, sharp and preciseand vocally, as Gibbons' gravely, bluesy and almost world-weary voice was the perfect contrast to Hill's rowdier, and higher-timbre "Let's party and have a real good time" rebel yell.
One of the night's highlights had nothing to do with any musical performance. It was the way that ZZ Topparticularly Gibbonsinteracted with the audience. Gibbons spied a young fan sitting in the front row with his father and brought the boy onto the stage. When he asked the child's name and age, he was told "James," and "I'm seven." Gibbons then asked James if he played guitar. James responded negatively to which Gibbons shook his head and responded, "Well why not?" When James shrugged, Gibbons patted the young fellow on the shoulders and introduced him to "my friend Dusty over here on bass." He then motioned toward the drum kit and said, "And do you see that gentleman sitting behind the drums? The only member of the band without a beard; believe it or not, his name is Frank Beard." Gibbons then handed the young fan a guitar pick, told him it was for when he took lessons and helped him off the stage and back to his seat.
The evening's most outrageous moment was when a middle-aged fan rushed the stage and attempted to kiss Gibbons. She somehow managed to run across the spinning stage in high-heels and reach Gibbons. Just as she was about to wrap her arms around the bearded guitar virtuoso, security managed to corral her and escort her from the stage. Gibbons and the crowd all enjoyed a good laugh before the band continued the performance.
The hits-filled, rocking and bluesy set included "Cheap Sunglasses," "Jesus Left Chicago," "Brown Sugar," a touching tribute to Jimi Hendrix ("Hey Joe"), the intro to "My Head's In Mississippi" and "Just Got Paid." The trio saved the most well-known and critically acclaimed part of its catalogue for the end, kicking into an unbelievably catchy barrage of fan favorites that included "Gimme All Your Lovin,'" "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs," followed by "La Grange" and "Tush," as the band's encores.
Though the set could have been longer, checking in at slightly over 90 minutes, it packed a punch. The band played almost everything that the sold-out audience came to hear and sounded fantastic. Those lucky enough to have gotten tickets to the event were treated to a tremendous evening of music in an intimate venue; that a big band like ZZ Top played a small venue like this only made the evening all the more special.
All Photos: Christine Connallon