ZZ Top is embroiled in a tug of war between seemed polar opposites. When you sit back and just enjoy their music, it feels expansive and at times complex; dissect it and you get a late burn and simple structure. The tones don’t change much but they pull sound from different directions. It’s mostly genius, like the slow punk drumming of Dale Crover for the Melvins.
Billy, Dusty and Frank started their set off three songs that embrace what I think of as their heart, “I Thank You”, “Waitin’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. The first from the ’79 recording Deguello and the next two from ’73’s Tres Hombres (which got the most love during the set featuring four songs). “Pincushion” from 1990’s Antenna sounded like disco with compressed guitars and effected drums compared to the openers. “Heard it on the X” does a good job bridging the gap between ZZ’s dirty Texas blues and the Top’s shiny rock. Then BAM into “I Gotsta Get Paid” from September’s release La Futura. I fell in love with this song when I first put the CD into my car stereo. Billy’s vocals are the most grizzled I’ve heard and the riff hints toward the Black Keys. If the Keys weren’t influenced by ZZ Top we all know both bands indeed pull from some of the same Delta bluesmen. Full circle baby! The song gets a bit of funk in there as well as some great licks by Dusty. I learned from my friend, Tim Finn, that the song is a revision of “25 Lighters” by rappers Lil Keke and Fat Pat from Houston. ZZ Top fixed it. “Gimme All Your Lovin'” brought everyone to their feet shouting which reaffirmed the success of 1983’s “Eliminator”. Then into “Vincent Price Blues” which was appropriately dark and dingy, the only song from “Rhythmeen. The more straight forward “My Head’s In Mississippi” followed by the Bob Seger-ish party song “Beer Drinker & Hell Raisers” not my favorite song from Tres Hombres. “Chartreuse”, the second song on La Futura turned the set back around with more ZZ Top heart. The boys closed with three slick songs from Afterburner and Eliminator. “Stages”, “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” all remind me of the early days of MTV and how confusing girls were.
The beautiful theater was filled with more than 2,000 pretty die hard fans, connoisseurs and only two sporting fake facial hair. Dusty and Billy wore identical suits, similar hats and beards, sported amazing matching custom telecaster bass and guitar and, of course, the signature tail pipe mic stands. Frank chimed in with silver and black custom painted Tama drums adorned with fuel tanks mounted on the double kick drums. The sound was great for the guitar, bass and drums but I would have liked to have heard Billy’s vocals a bit more out front. Spot lights lit up both Dusty and Billy with ambient blue and red lights accenting. At the front of the stage were three movie cameras that fed live video as well as movie clips and vintage footage to three screens at the back of the stage. It was a fairly Spartan stage but again, a simplicity that works will for ZZ Top.
Neither Gibbons or Hill stopped to tune their guitars in-between songs and they sounded on the money. This amazes me since I often experience the awkward eyes on tuner banter while a band gets center lined. Are those custom axes that good or do Dusty and Billy have special skills? Frank was the most physical of the band, treating us with the most expressions and energy. Even though neither of the bearded guys moved around much or contorted their faces, they commanded the stage. There was a vibe and weather-honed wisdom that exuded as they played. The stage banter was minimum but honest and kind of funny.
If I have not said enough about “I Gotsta Get Paid” check out this YouTube video of the band playing in Denmark. Beard does a drum solo at about 2:30 minutes that made me burst out laughing! So simple and perfect for the song it spits in the face of every hard rock cliché.
The Kansas City based Bryant Carter Band opened the night. A tightly focused set of country rock tinged with folk and Americana. It’s a big job opening for ZZ Top and they did very well. The crowd showed respect and interest. All of the bandmates were engaging on their instruments of choice but I kept being drawn back to the bassist, Ben Wemhoener. His stage style is a blast.
photos and review by Todd Zimmer