WIB Listening Party #69: La Futura


♫ ZZ Top, La Futura

🍺 Musa Blondie Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

If you’ve visited me before here at the Listening Party, you’ll know I occasionally use this platform to rant. You know, get things off my chest. I don’t run my mouth much in real life – until I get a few beers in me, then watch out! – and this is a nice, safe place for blowing off steam or expressing opinions that may be unpopular.

My first target today: St Patrick’s Day. I get it – if you’re Irish or Catholic or hold some other strong connection to the island nation. But I’m not into fake holidays or acting like something I’m not. Obviously, I have nothing against parties or drinking or I wouldn’t be here. But I refuse to wear green or put on a Leprechaun hat simply because it’s March 17th.  

So today, instead, I’m grabbing some other stuff I like. First, La Futura, the final studio album from ZZ Top. It’s a really cool, ballsy record. Maybe I’ll do a little ranting anyway.

On the sudsy side of the street, we’ve got Blondie Ale, a beer from Portugal. I’m going to have to trust my taste buds with this one, as everything printed on the label and written on the Cerveja Musa website is in … Portuguese, I guess?  

Friends, let’s do this.

I want to jump right into the music this time. Let’s start with “Chartreuse.”

I love the raw, bottomy sound of this record. It’s one I like to turn up loud in my car when no one else is riding with me. Kudos to producer legend Rick Rubin for finding the right balance between the original (pre-1980s) ZZ Top sound and whatever 21st century doodads he employed to give the album so much thump.

For a long time, I had mixed feelings about ZZ Top and I guess I still do. It’s hard to shake the memory of the only time I ever saw the trio live. It was at an outdoor venue in Germany, maybe ten years ago, so around the time of La Futura. My thinking at the time was: Even if they’re past their prime, ZZ Top is a band you should have seen at least once.

It was a decent show. But Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard appeared to be going through the motions, giving us the bare minimum. Just enough to allow their fans to go home reasonably satisfied and say, “Hey, ZZ Top was here.”

Worse, though, was the certainty that they were using playback. We – me and a friend, that is – were standing fairly close to the stage and there was no way to overlook that Billy Gibbons wasn’t really singing on some of the old hits.

Gibbons rehabilitated himself in my eyes (as if he cared!) some years later, at the Casino Zollverein in Essen, when he joined the Supersonic Blues Machine onstage for a few numbers. Once again, I was close to the stage and this time … Gibbons was really playing and singing and celebrating the blues. He wasn’t being ZZ Top. He wasn’t the cartoon character image. He was an honest-to-goodness musician being real, communing with the audience and loving it.

ZZ Top digs in deep and gets down-and-dirty bluesy on “Heartache In Blue.”

At the end of the day, you gotta give these dudes credits for creating a sound and an image that’s instantly recognizable and all their own. How many of the millions of bands on this planet can say that? Also, they brought the blues to the masses, even if the masses didn’t know it. Drum machines and playback notwithstanding: There’s no questioning ZZ Top’s love of and dedication to the blues. I mean, you don’t have a guitar fashioned from a piece of Muddy Waters’ cabin if you’re just faking it.

So … as I write these lines, I’m into my second glass of Blondie Ale. All I can tell you on the factual side is that Warrior and Cascade are the two varieties of lúpulos, i.e. hops, used in the brewing process. The beer’s appearance is slightly hazy, pale, and it shows off a foamy head with some staying power. It’s got a bracing, lemony aroma and prickly mouthfeel, tastes light and somewhat bitter. The lacing left behind on the glass is a nice touch.

The “it” factor is missing, though. Or am I missing it? That one characteristic that makes something stand out from the crowd. And endure. You know, like … ZZ Top.  

From the looks of things, the band still exists. Since Dusty Hill’s death in 2021, I have thought of them in the past tense. But I’m wrong. They’ve played shows since then with Elwood Francis (Hill’s guitar tech) on bass. These guys are icons. They wanna keep making music – more power to them.

There’s a song on La Futura I really like called “Flyin’ High,” which doesn’t sound quite like classic ZZ Top. The opening chord takes me right back to AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long.” Then there’s the very catchy, melodic chorus. There are two additional songwriters credited alongside Gibbons, which is the rule rather than the exception on La Futura. Whatever. “Flyin’ High” is a song about finding love, I think, and it captures the spirit of lightness and renewal and celebration that goes with that. Or maybe it’s about smoking a joint on an airplane. Or both!

Enjoy the music, the beers, the joints, St. Patrick’s Day and every day you’ve got on this planet, folks. Nothing lasts forever. Not even ZZ Top.

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