Some things you can’t predict, such as the need for a jacket for an outdoor concert in Scottsdale in late April. Other things you can, such as ZZ Top delivering blistering, hard driving rock, blues and boogie as they did Sunday night, April 26, 2015 at The Pool at Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale. As they have done for over 40 years, “the same three guys, the same three chords,” as guitarist Billy Gibbons put it, gave their fans exactly what they wanted, a set list of songs that are a staple of classic rock radio and talented musicianship that always seems to be underrated.
There are very few successful trios found in rock and roll and almost none that have lasted over 40 years. Yet Gibbons, bass player Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard play on and appear to be as fresh today as they may have been in 1973, a time when Hill and Gibbons didn’t have chest length beards.
It was the release of ZZ Top’s third album, 1973’s “Tres Hombres” and its hit single, “La Grange” and the lesser known, but still popular double shot of “Waitin’ For the Bus,” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” that catapulted the group from a struggling band to worldwide stars. And if “Tres Hombres” brought the first wave of ZZ Top fans, it was ten years later with ZZ Top’s 1983 album “Eliminator” and its string of hits “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Got Me Under Pressure,” “Sharped Dressed Man,” and “Legs,” that swelled the ranks of ZZ Top admirers.
Thanks to a series of successful music videos that aired on MTV in the 1980’s, the visual image of ZZ Top, with Gibbons and Hill sporting lengthy beards, sunglasses and hats, matched their gritty, bluesy, outlaw music that had preceded “Eliminator.” As Gibbons, Hill and Beard took the stage, there was no mistaking that visually, although they may be a bit older, ZZ Top remained the same. The next 80 minutes proved that musically, they still are on top of their game as well.
In a nod to ZZ Top’s two fan creating albums, the band opened the night with “Got Me Under Pressure,” followed by “Waitin’ for the Bus,” and Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The crowd was amped, standing and singing along to the first two numbers. Gibbons showed just how great a guitarist he is with a short solo in the opening number and the trio was the ultimate blues band with a lengthy instrumental during the third song.
It was a return to “Eliminator” with “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” the always on video screens on each side of the stage showing the classic music video of the song. “Are we having a good time?” Gibbons asked. Unless your view was obstructed by some oblivious, drunken fan who insisted upon standing all night, the answer was a resounding yes.
Two songs found before and after ZZ Top’s “MTV period,” 1979’s “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” and 1994’s “Pincushion,” followed. Lost in an era when grunge ruled the radio waves, “Pincushion” doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of classic ZZ Top songs, but its hard driving beat made it one of the highlights of the night.
It’s always a treat when a classic rock band releases new material that lives up to the music the band created that helped make them classic. ZZ Top did so with 2012’s album, “La Futura.” This night, the band played three songs off that album, “I Gotsta Get Paid,” “Flyin’ High” and “Chartreuse.”
Although most of the audience was not familiar with “I Gotsta Get Paid,” most likely because it was ZZ Top’s version of DJ DMD’s “25 Lighters,” its beat was infectious, with more than a few heads bobbing along. Likewise, “Flyin’ High” may not have had the audience up and dancing but there was an appreciation of the song just the same.
Next, it was “time to go way back,” as ZZ Top paid homage to another power trio, The Jimi Hendrix Experience with “Foxey Lady.” Gibbons did his guitar hero proud with a spot on rendition. The band continued the Hendrix’ tribute with “Catfish Blues,” where Hill’s bass line powered the song. This was pure blues, ZZ Top style.
It was back to the old ZZ Top, 1979’s “Cheap Sunglasses” and the newer, which sounds like it could have been old, 1990’s “My Head’s in Mississippi.” The audience shouted out the chorus to the former song, while the latter number drew a positive reaction when the lyrics were changed to “head’s in Arizona.”
“Chartreuse,” another selection from “La Futura,” brought out the fist pumps that a great bar song can. This was “Tush,” 2012 style. The song may have been unfamiliar to most of the crowd, but it should remain in the ZZ Top live performance set. Gibbons, Hill and Beard rocked it.
The regular set closed with two megahits from “Eliminator,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Legs.” Again the screens on both sides of the stage showed the MTV video award winning videos of those songs with Hill and Gibbons exhibiting some of the choreography they used in those videos. The guitarists even brought out their fuzzy guitars for “Legs.” The only thing missing was that the guitars didn’t spin. But the audience didn’t seem to mind. Everyone was standing and singing along, as enthusiastic as they had been all night long.
That enthusiasm poured into the encore, Hill and Gibbons returning wearing glittered covered jackets as the crowd instantly recognized the opening notes to “La Grange.” Again, the musicianship of the three members was on display in a lengthy jam. Gibbons and Hill may get most of the attention with their guitar work front stage, but once you start watching Beard’s work on the drums, you may end up focusing on his ability for a while.
Although it seemed almost an impossibility to become even more frantic, the crowd exploded with the notes that began the night’s last number, “Tush.” This was classic ZZ Top, the hard rocking, boogie woogie rock and roll that had their fans in a frenzy. If one could summarize a ZZ Top concert experience in one moment, this would have been it.
Unless ZZ Top starts playing five hour concerts, they’re not going to get to every song that every person in the audience wants to hear played. But ZZ Top still has plenty of hits spanning four decades to make those in attendance happy. And their new music should be given a chance. Will you keep “having a good time” at a ZZ Top concert? I predict you will.
Set List: Got Me Under Pressure | Waitin’ For the Bus | Jesus Just Left Chicago | Gimme All Your Lovin’ | I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide | Pincushion | I Gotsta Get Paid | Flyin’ High | Foxey Lady | Catfish Blues | Cheap Sunglasses | My Head’s In Mississippi | Chartreuse | Sharp Dressed Man | Legs | Encore: La Grange/ Sloppy Drunk Jam/ Bar-B-Q | Tush