“Remember the good times and how it used to be?”
Billy Gibbons growled those lyrics on stage Saturday night (March 30) for the first time in decades. And it was on a stage that is a bit smaller than the ones he usually performs on with ZZ Top. The place: B.B. King’s in New York City’s Times Square. The occasion: the first show in 44 years by Gibbons’ former band, The Moving Sidewalks. The song: “Flashback,” one of the tracks on the recently released on The Complete Moving Sidewalks collection, the impetus for the show.
The band – which also includes bassist Don Summers (who designed the spinning guitars that ZZ used in their ’80s videos), keyboardist Tom Moore and drummer Dan Mitchell – played to a packed and enthused crowd. A combination of old school garage rock aficionados (one lucky attendee passed up an original vinyl record which all four members autographed between songs) and ZZ Top fans curious to see Gibbons in a different format, they were treated to highlights from the group’s brief catalog, including “Joe Blues,” “No Good To Cry” and “What Are You Going To Do?”
After “Joe Blues,” Gibbons laughed and asked the crowd, “Can you imagine singing this s*** when you’re sixteen?” And really, how many teenagers can really sing “I’ve got these blues, I got them over you… and I’ll lose the rest of my mind over you” with the gravitas of their blues heroes? (But what sixteen year old hasn’t felt that way about whomever is the object of their affections?)
Although the song, and the show probably reminded at least some of the crowd of where they were in 1968 and who they had a crush on. The band were tight and seemed to enjoy playing their old songs as much as the ecstatic audience enjoyed hearing them one more time.
Gibbons’ voice has, of course, changed a bit since then. But it’s incredible how much he’d developed his guitar playing by that age, and it’s no wonder that Jimi Hendrix was an early fan and supporter. Hearing him play those guitar lines all these years later, you can hear the origins of his sun-burnt guitar style on his earliest recordings.
The band noted Hendrix’s role in their history, paying tribute the man, whom they opened for, via covers of “Foxy Lady” and “Red House.” “He taught us half of everything we know,” Gibbons said from the stage.
During the encore they did a medley of Hendrix’s version of “Catfish Blues” which went into his classic, “If 6 Was 9.” That medley covers what the Moving Sidewalks were about: heavy blues played through the filter of psychedelic rock. (Also psychedelic: Gibbons and Summers’ pick guards, which doubled as tiny monitor screens displaying wild imagery throughout the show.)
They didn’t just pay tribute to Hendrix: they also covered The Troggs‘ “Wild Thing,” Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me” and fell0w Texan psychedelic warriors The 13th Floor Elevators’ “Reverberation (Doubt)” (a song that ZZ Top also covered in 1990 on the Where The Pyramid Meets The Eye tribute to that band’s leader, Roky Erikson). Gibbons noted, no doubt winking behind his ever-present shades, that Erikson would give the guys “a drink” – Listerine, he said – at their shows back in the day.
The show ended with the band’s two most well-known songs: “99th Floor” and their proto-metal version of The Beatles‘ “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”
The band’s career ended when Moore and Summers were drafted to serve in the Viet Nam war. Had that not happened, the Moving Sidewalks may well have remained an ongoing concern (and ZZ Top would never have formed). The fireworks in this show gave an interesting glimpse of how good the band might have been, had their career not been interrupted.
In “Flashback,” Gibbons sang, “Just for a second, check your memories – check it out good and then I know you’ll see: Flashback!” But for about an hour and a half on Saturday night, the memories of a nearly (but not quite) forgotten band from 44 years ago were brought back to life again.