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India Mahal. A humble hole-in-the-wall on Hillsborough Street and the first act of An Evening with Lynyrd Skynyrd and ZZ Top. The big-name, big ass-kicking bands are in town tonight, a Sunday night, a *school* night, and are performing at Raleigh's new, as-of-yet-un- named Entertainment and Sports Arena. (For the purposes of this es- say, let's call it the Senator Jesse Helms Closed Mind Complex.) My metal chick companion and I are almost identical-- both in black, though only *one* wearing flaming-red lipstick. We've picked Mahal because their lamb vindaloo (mild) is the best-est in the Triangle. And, they ain't too far from the concert. We split a single dinner, to keep the cost down, and order a double order of nan, with little worry of a later carb crash. (The rock music will keep us awake, no?) And, while we wait for our food, my companion makes fun of me, convinced that I'm the only person on the planet who would bring a notepad to a rock concert. Wouldn't you? Horse shit. That's the second notable scent of the evening after Indian food and what wafts through the arena's parking pasture as we cross the street from the Fairgrounds horse complex. (What can we say, we're too cheap to pay for parking...) The gleaming, brightly lit building rises in the not-so-distant distance. A few folks are already yelling and their excited whoops carry a good 300 yards. We cross grass, gravel, and finally concrete. Wait in line. Realize it's the wrong line. Visit some guy named Will Call. Secure tick- ets. Get felt-up by security guard. (He doesn't grab my crotch and, thus, doesn't discover the disposable camera hidden there.) Another guard is overheard asking an entrant to "please remove your cap." Maybe he's wearing a rug made of pot. (Two days and nine dollars in photo-processing fees later, I discover that disposable cameras and indoor concerts are *not* compatible. Crotch-concealed or otherwise...) Red and black. Inside the arena, everything's painted red, black, or both, 'cause those are the colors of the area's athletic inter- ests, the Carolina Hurricanes hockey team and the North Carolina State University Wolfpack. [ Insert own joke about "athletic sup- porters" ] My attention, however, quickly turns from decor to den- izens, as I catalog the many variations on a redneck theme: ball caps, halter tops, leather pants, motorcycle pants, tight, tight Sassoon jeans (with accompanying stares), Skynyrd shirts, Harley shirts, NASCAR caps, cowboy hats, bleached manes (female), tie-dye tees (rare), tattooed arms, tattooed shoulders, Male Pony Tails of Remarkable Length, rebel flags worn as capes, one pentagram neck- lace (obviously a misplaced death-metal fan), and, atop the head of an apparent Civil War re-enactor, an authentic-looking Confederate cap. And, of course, everyone's holding a beer. Or two. Cat piss. Our seats smell like cat piss. Section 103, Row C, Seats 11 and 12. Great, *great* view, but accompanied by an overpowering Eau du Pee Pee. I consider my options. Ask to be moved? Plea for a can of Lysol?? Hope that the collision of odors from the stinky- looking people in front of us cancels everything out??? We're a couple minutes from show time. The house lights are still up, but that doesn't deter the screamers. They holler and holler some more and holler the loudest when any woman in a tight top appears. Then, in a blink, the auditorium goes dark. Spotlight on a man making his way across stage. He's wearing a bandana. Blue jeans, too. And may be drunk. He identifies himself as a deejay for someone, some- where, and proceeds to open the proceedings by shouting "Hey, F***- ers!" My companion and I are immediately put at ease. This is going to be a classy affair after all... Who the Hell are these guys? The opening act is some Southern rock- style rock band. Five guys, most of 'em in jeans and each looking like they need a shower. Or at least a hosing-down. The singer has dirty blond hair halfway to his ass and seems fond of humping the microphone stand. (Slow gyrations, if you must know.) Their songs are unremarkable; their stage effects little more than smoke and colored lights. (And for that matter, who even *needs* an opening act on a bill boasting both Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Top?) Behind us is a metal barrier, separating our row (C) from the rest (D through ZZ). We're also one seat from the end. The first remarkable sight of the evening involves a gentleman who oh-so-casually leaps over the barrier, beer in hand and without spilling a single drop. We're agog. Needless to say, I decline to repeat the feat later in the concert. Laidlaw. The band's name is Laidlaw. They sing stuff like "got me a woman who sweats a lot" in songs with such titles as "Catfish Blues." Or is it "Catfish Stew?" Not sure. Don't care. They're dull and so I pass the time by daydreaming, people-watching, or drawing tattoos on my companion's bare arm. 7:55 p.m. The first sighting of a young child. Five minutes later, the set is over. House lights are raised and taped music of the Beatles, the Stones, and AC/DC's "Back in Black" is played. 8:09 p.m. The first beer spill is spotted, when a full cup is emptied two seats to my right. For five merciful minutes, the smell of hops and yeast out-odors the cat pee. Across the aisle, a 'bacco-chewin' bubba weeps brown juice into a clear cup. That's a sight we didn't not need to see. 8:14 p.m. The first sighting of a pregnant woman. (Versus those visit- ing ladies whose bellies happen to be unusually large...) Freebird! The lights dim again. I wring my hands in anticipation. Tonight will be the *one* time in my life when I can yell it and be taken seriously. Fog appears; lighters are lit; a giant Lynyrd Sky- nyrd banner is pulled across the backdrop. "Edge of Forever" it reads, apparently noting both the tour name and the title of the opening song. Four gee-tars, a pianist, a drummer, two ladies for singing and dancing, and the guy with the mike. The audience joins on the next song, the popular "What's Your Name?" Air guitarists wail amid a seat of smiling Caucasian faces. (The demographics? All appear between teen- and baby boomer-aged, maybe two-thirds male and nearly all Anglo.) The second remarkable sight of the evening again involves the barrier and the efforts of two men helping *one* woman. She isn't small and the music drowns out any grunting. "You guys ain't gettin' quiet on me, are you?" The crowd roars and the bang boogies with "I Know a Little." Then, they play a medley of older songs. 8:45. Still comatose from dinner. "Raleigh" is added in a couple of songs. The crowd cheers. One of the guitar players keeps changing his hat. Later, he'll helmet a London bob- by's cap. "Swamp Music," "Curtis Blow," and "Working Man Blues." Either they're the titles or the song subjects. Not sure which. 8:55 p.m. Empty beer cup strikes my foot. Still smelling cat pass. "Gimme Three Steps," another fave, sends the crowd into a frenzy. (I've experienced a similar reaction when singing same at karoke...) "Call Me The Breeze" begins and the excited crowd gets even *more* excited. And then an epiphany: everything from the songs to the stage patter sounds note-for-note (and word-for-word) *identical* to what I remember from "One More From the Road," their classic live album. Could they really be *that* retro? "It's time for the South to rise again!" Guitar solo, yawn, which wraps with a few bars from "Dixie" to roaring approval. The next song is no surprise. "Sweet Home Alabama," the most overplayed ob- jet in the Skynyrd oeuvre. As an enormous rebel flag is unfurled, I take the opportunity to visit the concession area, to buy a silver ZZ Top key chain ($15) and a chocolate-covered frozen custard "hock- ey puck" ($2.50). (Any resemblance between the latter and Don Rick- les is purely coincidental.) Return to seat as song ends. Band exits. Crowd roars. "Freebird!" Crowd continues to roar. "Free- bird!" I yell it, too, but only once. "Freebird!" Adjust ye olde earplugs. "Freebird!" The cheering continues for a full five min- utes before the pianist appears, to play the solo that segues into That Song That We Want To Hear. For this, the most sacred of South- ern Rock anthems, the singer raises his stand, a rebel flag wrapped around the mike. The audience is transformed into a pond of ciga- rette lighters. (Why so few? The arena's non-smoking policy? The declining numbers of smokers in general??) Disco duck. A mirrored ball is lowered toward the end of the song. The Seventies have arrived. Reflected light goes everywhere as my companion notes "it doesn't take much to wow *this* crowd." They roar, wave, scream, and sing. And we still smell cat piss. "Free- bird" takes another five minutes to finish, with two or three false endings at the end. The rock and roll equivalent of a Beethoven symphony, I suppose... The boys take their bows, the house lights are raised, and the first song on the intermission tape is the theme from "The Andy Griffith Show." Lots of people leave; we're staying, both for the Top and to watch the fascinating process of a concert stage disassembly. (You haven't lived till you've seen eight people tip a baby grand on its side and slide it into a box! That two-per- son duct-tape laying technique is pretty cool, too...) Yo! The security guard has started showing his ass, flashing his flashlight on folks caught smoking or trying to climb over the bar- rier. Skynyrd's stage is slowly being transformed into the Top's. Out are pulled large, curved, white fabric-covered boards. What *are* they constructing? Fake burned logs are arranged on stage. Across the aisle, we spot the best tee of the evening. "Y2 QUE?" it reads. Also spotted is a woman in a short dress with the words "ZZ TOP" stitched across her chest. (She's negotiating with the security guard for something. Probably a backstage pass.) Soon, the minimalist set is standing. Abstract curved white shapes rise behind the drum riser like a thorny tent city. A pair of thick metal microphone stand as sentries out front. Other odd artifacts sit on either side of the bronze-colored drum kit. The set-up has taken twenty minutes. Maybe a third of the audience has left. It *is* late. Past ten. Then the lights drop. "Are you ready for Star Time?" bellows radio announcer Ross Mitch- ell, on the taped introduction first heard on "XXX," the band's lat- est album. They have arrived. Beards. Shades. Funky caps. Glit- tering guitars. "The ZZ Tops." Plural. "Got Me Under Pressure" is the first blast from the electric furnace. Frank Beard behind the skins; Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons on the six-strings. The axe men are a hip, strange-looking pair. Furry aliens, if you will. "Wait- ing for the Bus" segues into "Jesus Just Left Chicago." Then "Pin- cushion." Then "Fearless Boogie." The drums are heavy, the guitar- sound is perfect. Gibbons' and Hill's beards? Amazing. They could have cats hanging from their faces. Beard is also bearded, but less so. B and D trade glances and gestures and occasionally perform a little synchronized stepping. And, during one song, they surprise the audience by walking in place, via concealed treadmills. They don't repeat the gag. Shapes and shadows. Projected onto the white-fabric stage shapes are various geometric and psychedelic patterns. More stage patter than expected, as well. "We really don't know what we're doin'," gabs Gibbons, "but it sure feels good." The smell of cat piss con- tinues. Dusty sings a slow-moving blues tune. Cover? Original?? They also do a little duet-ing in mid-song. Gibbons later baits the audience with guitar tricks. Next is a song from "Rhythmeen," follow- ed by their trademark "Cheap Sunglasses." I'm already dreading my 7 a.m. curtain call to "hit the streets a-runnin' and try to feed the masses." Gibbons flips his axe over and plays a couple rough riffs on his crotch. Hilarious. "Just Got Paid" booms with the Bass Line From Hell. Then, the long-awaited trilogy of MTV faves: "Gimme All Your Lovin," "Sharp Dressed Man," and "Legs." Shag guitars for the last one. 11:08 p.m. And then it's over. The thirty-year veterans vacate the stage. The crowd roars. A roadie checks the drums. I glance at my watch. And then they're back, with Gibbons and Hill having donned cowboy hats. Three encores. "Tube Snake Boogie," with the audience singing an entire verse a-cappella. ("I've got a girl, she lives on the hill; she won't do it but her sister will!") "La Grange," which is also a town in Eastern N.C. (Near Kinston.) And "Tush," Texas slang for "livin' large." It's a short song, so the last verse is repeated. The audience cheerfully chimes in. Really, we weren't asking for much. Just a little bit o' drums, bass, and fuzzy guitar. And did we ever get it! After the band bolts, the instrumental "Dreadmon- boogallo" is played on tape. Climb stairs to exit. Cross parking pasture to horse complex. Battle traffic before deciding on dirt road shortcut. And, at approximately 11:30 p.m., and not too far from the arena, we spot a deer crossing Reedy Creek Road. Aided by the Bluesmobile's halogen headlights, we watch as a group of four watches us. A few yards further, we see *twice* that number. We look. They look. We make a noise. They snort and leap into the night. First we sigh, then we smile. What a great end to a great evening. Copyright 2000 Michael J. Legeros
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Copyright 2021 by Michael J. Legeros