ZZ Top – Jonny Two Bags, Maine State Pier, Portland, Maine, September 4th, 2016

Way back in the day, when the world was black and white, and I was only 15, my mother, after a great deal of beggin on my part, finally allowed me to attend my first concert.  This woman was tough.  KISS in Augusta in 1975, “Mom PLEASE???!!!!” “No.” “But Mom, it’s UFO!” Again in 1975. “No.” “Cheap Trick?” “Again, NO!” Finally, I got a “Yes” …on the condition that she and my stepfather went along as well.  It wasn’t that bad, my stepfather was a biker, and he brought me and Mom down to the front row where we hung on to the barricade and watched the show. My first show? ZZ Top in 1977. I remember the opening act, The Blend, played and I thought it was the coolest thing I had ever seen.  I said to my folks. “That was great.” My stepfather smiled and said, “That ain’t nothing, wait ‘til you see ZZ Top.” I looked at him puzzled, “You mean that wasn’t them?” In my defense, I was 15!  I hadn’t actually heard much of ZZ Top, it was just a concert and I was being allowed to go. Things would change for the better really soon.

Ever since that day, I have had this love affair with the blues, Texas blues especially.  Something about the way it grooves, with enough rock to make me stand up and listen.  Since that day I have seen hundreds of concerts and have seen ZZ Top half a dozen times, but no matter how many times I see them, they never let me down,

The Maine State Pier is a good place to see a show, it’s right there on Portland’s Waterfront, and I do mean right there ON the Waterfront. The only drawback, is that the stage sits facing the west, and since the sun sets in the west, those onstage either have to wear sunglasses or squint, and the stage lighting is washed out.  All the photographer nit-picking aside, it was still a great show.

Opening the show was Social Distortion’s own Jonny Two Bags, who is out on the road promoting his first solo album, Salvation Town.  Jonny played an abbreviated set, yet it was very well done. Armed with just an old Gibson acoustic, Jonny stood and hammered away at some great material, and the audience seemed to really like what he was dishing out. For one man armed with only an acoustic guitar that is not an easy task – I’ve seen plenty of warm up acts get eaten alive by fans waiting for the main event. But not tonight. Jonny’s stripped down sound went over very well. So much so, that when I went out to the t-shirt vender at intermission to buy a Jonny Two Bags t-shirt and album, there was a line of people doing the same thing. Look for his release, as well as the rest of Social Distortion, out on the road.

ZZ Top wasn’t slated to start until 7:30, but for some reason, they went right on nearly as soon as Jonny’s mic was struck from the stage.  This was fine by me as KISS was playing up the street and I was given tickets to that show, so after ZZ Top I was going to go up and catch the end of KISS, but as it was, I was going to be able to catch both shows.  A big night of rock and roll in Portland!

That “little ol’ band from Texas” opened the show with “Got Me Under Pressure” and seeing Dusty and Billy’s grins made me think that wow, after all these years these cats are still having fun. Drummer, Frank Beard, behind his kit was only a head, but I did catch him with his eyes open three or four times. Nearly every time I’ve seen the band lately, Frank always has his eyes closed.

Billy Gibbons is an exceptional guitar player, a guitar God to many, and underrated at the same time. Kids today, and even back in the eighties, always seem to think the guy who plays fastest is the best, i.e., your Yngwie Malmsteens and your Steve Vais and whoever that guy from Dragon Force is.  But the fact of the matter is that speed is not what goes into making a great guitar player.  No.  A great guitar player must know how to play tastefully and with emotion. Billy has great tone and delivers just what is needed.

On bass, Dusty Hill holds down a great groove that locks right in with Frank’s drums, and together the pair lay the foundation for Billy to play over.

Dusty is back after dislocating his shoulder earlier in the year. He seems to have this dark cloud that follows him, if you recall a couple of years ago, he had a bad slip on the tour bus left him with a hip injury, and many years ago, he shot himself in the stomach when his then girlfriend pulled off his boot and the small Derringer that he kept in it hit the floor and discharged.  There were no accidents on stage this evening so you may still be able to catch them touring. (Chuckles)

The band played mostly hits, their own with a few covers as well including Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” as well as Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons.” The band came on for two finales, the last one was a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” which the band recorded on their 1975 Fandango LP.

A notable addition to this year’s set was featuring Dusty Hill on keyboards for a couple numbers. You might recall ZZ Top’s Eliminator album had some keyboard songs.

Bottom line – ZZTop put on another great show.

ZZ Top’s set list:

Got Me Under Pressure – Waitin’ For The Bus – Jesus Just Left Chicago – Gimmie All Your Lovin’ – Pincushion – I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide – I Gotsta Get Paid – Rough Boy – Foxy Lady (Jimi Hendrix Experience Cover) – Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis Cover) – Cheap Sunglasses – Chartreuse – Sharp Dressed Man – Legs

Encore: La Grange – Tush

Encore 2 – Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley Cover)

About the author

James Pappaconstantine

James has been shooting concerts since 1977, He started out with his Kodak Instamatic, before moving up to a real camera (a Pentex K1000) in 1981, he has since moved through the ranks of Minolta, Sony and Cannon before landing on his Nikon D800. When not shooting a show Jim can be found singing with his own band Reverse Cowgirl or spending time with his two wonderful kids.