Here’s a complete report from the now-legendary Billy Bob’s show on Thursday night.
Prior to the show at the sound check, I noticed that they had both drum kits on stage (Frank’s and Billy Bob Thornton’s -- hereafter BBT-- drummer’s kit) at the same time, which is a strange way to do a sound check.
ZZ went on first. Before their set, I noticed there was something set up stage left which looked like a keyboard (but turned out to be a steel guitar--hey, it was dark and the stage was raised!) so I knew something special was about to happen.
The band started at about 9:35 playing with a sparse stage setup in front of the iconic Billy Bob’s Texas-shaped sign. Things started out normally with Under Pressure. Dusty’s vocals almost could not be heard but that technical problem was solved quickly. The outfits and guitars (with one exception--wait for this) were pretty much what they have been using the last year or two. The crowd was into it and the place was starting to heat up. Billy told us they were here opening for BBT because they were friends with BBT and that if he let them stick around all night there would be something special at the end.
After a few more of the usual tunes Elwood Francis walks out wearing the same outfit he had on when he played with them at the Houston Rodeo in 2007. (Sammy Sanchez was also at this show, although he seemed to be working with BBT’s band and not Billy. So I’m not sure if Billy has two techs now or what. Elwood brought Billy’s guitars out all night.) Anyway, back to the point. Billy says that since they’re playing at Billy Bob’s they have to pay tribute to that heritage, and they start into a Johnny Cash song with Elwood on steel guitar. Billy sang (usually Dusty sings the Cash songs) and I must say this song sounded really great. Then Billy says how about some Hank Snow?
How about some what? At this point I have no idea what they’re doing, but with Elwood still on steel guitar they rip through a great cover of “I’m Moving On.” One cool thing when they do these covers is that you get to learn a lot about their influences. The rest of the set was pretty standard, Pincushion, Foxy Lady, the usual.
I did a double-take when they did Legs, though--the old fuzzy Gibson guitars are gone! They have been replaced by some sort of box-shaped furry guitars, think one of Bo Diddley’s guitars covered in fur. (I wasn’t close enough to see what these guitars actually were, but that’s what they looked like.)
So the set ends and a while later BBT’s set begins with BBT on vocals. He talks about ZZ quite a bit, explains that he has known Frank for many years, since he was drummer in a ZZ tribute band called Tres Hombres. BBT also says that just because ZZ’s set was over doesn’t mean they’re not coming back out!
A bit before 1:00 BBT finishes his set on goes offstage. The crowd is chanting “ZZ Top, ZZ Top” and people are standing on the tables. Then something really cool happens: the crew moves the BBT drums over a bit and wheels Frank’s skull kit back onstage! The crowd is going nuts and there are now two drums kits on stage. BBT comes back out and sits behind his band’s drums and Frank walks out and hops behind his kit. They both start jamming on the drums and the entire BBT band comes back out and they jam for more than 10 minutes on two separate songs. Frank is really killing it, sometimes it looks like he is bored back there but tonight he really seemed to be having a great time, smiling and laughing and enjoying himself.
Finally, BBT’s band leave and the crowd is going nuts. Billy and Dusty come back, Frank leaves his kit to sit next to BBT, and the band rips into “I Thank You” with Billy Bob Thornton playing drums.
You don’t see that at every show!
They sounded killer again, and it was all over. I assume (although you never know) that these weird songs will be in the Rodeo set but we’ll have to wait and see.
I think this is the most fun I’ve ever seen the band have, it was really an incredible experience. I know Billy plays with other acts all the time but I don’t think I’ve ever heard of Frank playing drums for another band---that may be a first? And other than the time Texas Gov. Rick Perry played with them (and the short time where Frank was sick in Europe) I’m not sure when they have ever played with another drummer?
I have some video of the “good stuff” up at my blog and will try to add a few more/photos later. Out all of the shows I have ever seen them play (lost track at this point) this was perhaps the greatest of them all.
Looking forward to Sunday’s show and to Storytellers (can that top this show?) in Chicago on March 31!