Review of La Grange Fest by Austin360!
BEE CAVE — Fired up the hog and took the old lady to the new Backyard here Saturday night to see ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd. I’d not seen the former in forever and the latter in never. We got exactly what we expected: long lines to get in and out, a handful of delusional Skynyrd fans waving the Confederate battle flag, hits and a whole lot of guitar. We can safely proclaim the first La Grange Fest, which also included the very talented singer-songwriter Jamey Johnson and Corey Taylor from (!) Slipknot a success.
I’d love to tell you about Corey but, yeah, traffic took care of that. Johnson enjoys the complementary advantages of having a very expressive voice and story-songs that Daniel Woodrell might write. Great stuff, and the crowd was primed to be in a receptive mood.
Skynyrd, a band known as much for one plane crash as well as its 86 guitarists, brought out “That Smell,” “What’s Your Name,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Sweet Home Alabama” and, but of course, “Stairway to Heaven.” I mean “Free Bird.” If you’re like me you were probably in line for the bar or the bathroom for at least one of those — and lines were a reality for both of those attractions because this crowd was getting its drank on.
I know these guys are the definition of a guilty pleasure band. I know that the current iteration contains exactly one original member, but that band was together for, what, five years in the ’70s? This bunch, led by Johnny Van Zant, has been together since the late ’80s, making them perhaps the world’s only tribute band that’s a tribute to THEMSELVES. That’s some trick if you think about it.
As ever, the three-man guitar attack was equally impressive and wearying. Those guys are very competitive seeing who can cram the most notes into every bar, but, in fairness, that’s what they’re about.
And there lies Skynyrd’s great contrast with ZZ Top, the undisputed grand champions of Texas blues rock, with a lineup unchanged since 1970. (Name another band that’s stayed together without a lineup change that long. I’ll wait here.) Billy Gibbons can’t play as fast as any of the Skynyrd guys, but he’s all about working up greasy licks that sound like him and no one else. Sometimes virtuosity can leave you cold; Gibbons’ distinctive playing never fails to enhance the tune, not to mention bringing a smile to himself and the crowd.
Gibbons and the other dos hombres are essentially a nostalgia act, too, but what a stack of hits. In fairness, the opener, “Got Me Under Pressure,” dates merely to 1983, as does “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin’” and “Legs.” That “Eliminator” album packed them in, didn’t it? And that’s not even the sweet spot of the band’s catalog — “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and of course “Free Bird.” I mean “La Grange.” Those all got spirited airings Saturday night. You can’t name a festival after one of your songs and then not play it, even if it is swiped from a John Lee Hooker riff.
Now entering their fifth decade together, these guys have every right to not work it as hard as they do. They do, and good for them. All together now: A how-how-how-how.