ZZ Top Live Without Guest Gregg Allman: Confronting and Celebrating Aging in Live Music

I read a review of a Paul McCartney show recently that opened with a rather morbid reminder that he won’t be around forever. I wondered if Paul McCartney really deserved such a sobering introduction but in retrospect, I think I needed the reality check on celebrity aging before venturing out to the Blue Hills Bank Pavilion in Boston to see Gregg Allman and ZZ Top. I thought if the blues legends had lost their nearly infamous pizazz, it would at least be worth it to say I saw Gregg. I was wrong on both counts. ZZ Top, one of the very few very famous classic rock bands still touring with their original defining line-up, stunned with an energetic performance hardly contingent on legacy as the live show of an older band might be, and due to health complications, Gregg Allman never showed up at all.

I still feel a little sorry for the Pavilion employee who had to watch my face fall when he handed me a heartless little green slip announcing Gregg’s recent illness and absence from the tour. Although encouraged by plans to return soon, I’m struck with the heavy blow that I may never see another one of my all time favorite artists in the flesh, and overall a new sense of urgency – even personal responsibility – to participate in music history as it’s being made. The accessibility of music is a horrible thing to waste. See more shows. Watch old people play while their health allows it, and watch young people play before you’re sure they’ll make it. Convince your friends to come along, but go alone if you need to. Under any of these circumstances, stand up and dance.

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Regardless of how many chances you will or won’t get to see ZZ Top live, it’s worth it. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill stroll out in matching hats and (cheap?) sunglasses, perfectly tailored all-black ensembles, and signature beards that look fake from a distance, yet still as righteous as ever. They both wear their guitars below the hip. Though they never execute the famous 360-degree spin, the two sway through the classic unison stage choreography of southern rock. It’s not a chatty show but they occasionally growl a sentence or two deep into the microphone, and it’s so satisfying it almost doesn’t matter what they’re saying. Frank Beard holds down the fort behind his drum kit. They play all their greatest hits but”Legs”, when they break out the fuzzy guitars, is the best (or at least the flashiest) moment of the whole show. The gritty, high-energy blues come through full force live although it’d be nice if the crowd were more partial to dancing. During “Legs”, the lights dim and the glittery 80’s groove pulls previously sedentary fans out of their seats. Some more adventurous middle-aged concertgoers really let loose for these four minutes and I suddenly wish I went to more shows with older audiences. The theatricality of “Legs” is rivaled when the band returns for the encore in sparkling bejeweled jackets to close with “La Grange” and “Tush”. Predictable, but in a way that feels, so, so great. The whole audience gets on their feet and ZZ Top really, really rocks. Like it’s 1976.

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