Something Borrowed, Something Blues, Y’All
TEN YEARS after the beginning of the British Invasion there exists a crowd of anxious young bands whose roots are secondhand. These are groups who can function perfectly well while believing that the Stones had the definitive version of ‘Walking the Dog’ and that Jeff Beck invented the electric guitar. And if the musicians themselves aren’t quite that naive, a large, even younger portion of their audience is.
Two such bands, both American, are Z.Z. Top and Aerosmith. Each has come to prominence within the last three years and though neither regards Los Angeles as one of their especially popular bases, they were able to nearly fill the Forum on a Thursday night during a week when Alice Cooper and Bad Company were playing the same hall.
Aerosmith, which opened the show, takes itself very seriously onstage — even though its act has been lifted in equal parts from the Rolling Stones and the Yardbirds. It has the same instrumental lineup (two guitars, bass, drums and lead singer), a look that’s strictly Mick and Keith, dazzling guitar work that’s as complex as Clapton’s, Beck’s and Page’s and a prancing, pouty lead singer (Steve Tyler) who looks as though he spends hours before each show standing in front of a mirror sucking in his cheeks. The staging is tight and carefully planned and the lighting and sound are excellent. But tonight’s material, with the exception of the excellent ballad ‘Dream On’, wasn’t exactly memorable. Still, audience response was unusually strong for an opening act, and the boys — especially Tyler — seemed particularly popular with the ladies.
In a high-energy set, Z.Z. Top showed itself to be even less innovative than Aerosmith. A bass-drums-guitar unit, it concentrates upon blues forms, specializing in the frantic shuffle. Many of Top’s riffs are borrowed from older bluesmen and other contemporary bands, and its technique is hardly unique. Next to Top, in fact, Bachman-Turner Overdrive sounds downright complicated.
Until encore time the songs were all originals, ranging from such group standards as ‘LaGrange’ and ‘Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers’ to several selections from Fandango, the band’s most recent album. Of those, ‘Blue Jean Blues’ was the most noteworthy, if only because it was slow — a distinct change from the rest of the repertoire. The show lasted just under an hour — not counting encores for the wildly appreciative crowd that included faithful versions of Elvis’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and Johnny Cash’s ‘Folsom Prison Blues’.
Though its music was simple-minded, Z.Z. Top’s down-home manner was refreshing, especially in contrast to Aerosmith’s self-importance. True, guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill appeared in sequined suits, but Gibbons played up his Texas roots by drawling out “you folks” and “y’all” several times — and all but dug his pointed boot toes in the stage. Gibbons played with personality too, occasionally mugging by rolling his eyes skyward. After one particularly hot guitar lick, he stopped, approached the microphone and drawled, “That wasn’t in the record… I just thought I’d put it in special for y’all tonight.” With this kind of a band, humility — even of the put-on variety — is a welcome change.
© Todd Everett, Rolling Stone, 31 July 1975