Live review: ZZ Top: Still in top form

If you weren’t a music fan back in the 80s (or maybe you weren’t even alive yet), you may not know that for a short period of time, the Texas blues-rock trio ZZ Top absolutely dominated the world of popular music. When their 1983 album Eliminator hit the airwaves and MTV played their slick video for “Sharp Dressed Man,” ZZ Top became international superstars. They embarked on a never-ending arena tour, selling out multiple nights in most cities. I (along with my friend Bob) personally camped-out in a line outside of the Pittsburgh Civic Arena for over 24 hours…in January…in roughly 10 degree weather no less, just for the opportunity to get tickets to see ZZ Top. It was the hottest ticket for the hottest show in the country. Now let’s fast forward to last week’s concert at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Atlanta. A lot has changed since then, but it’s still the same three guys, they still have their fuzzy beards and guitars, and while MTV might not play their videos anymore, they still sound every bit as good as they did back in the 80s.

After a short video intro, guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard casually strolled on stage and launched into “Got Me Under Pressure,” from Eliminator. Modestly dressed in matching black suits, top hats and weathered instruments, Billy & Dusty exuded that “casual cool” that they have always had, punctuating that “cool” with their subtle, synchronized stage moves.

ZZ Top, Live at The Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, Georgia
Dusty Hill & Billy Gibbons

ZZ Top is a band that was built on the blues, and the setlist reflected that fact. The one-two punch of “Waitin’ For The Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” the blues standard “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (Catfish Blues)” and Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” showcased the band’s blues roots, while “My Head’s In Mississippi” was their more modernized take on the genre. Billy Gibbons may not be running around the stage like he did in their hey-day, but his fingers sure do work just fine. He effortlessly attacked each solo, accenting each with his trademark hum-bucking tone and screeching harmonics.

ZZ Top, Live at The Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, Georgia
Billy Gibbons, hittin’ the note

Long time concert favorites “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” and “Cheap Sunglasses,” both from 1979’s Deguello and “I Gotsta Get Paid” from La Futura filled out their set before the fuzzy guitars came out for the danceable “Legs.”

Tour mate Jeff Beck joined ZZ Top on stage for an extended version of “Rough Boy,” sharing the song’s two solos with Billy Gibbons. I could go on forever about Jeff Beck and his guitar mastery/wizardry/tone, and I would have loved to have seen the two acts share more stage time together, but unfortunately “Rough Boy” and “16 Tons” were all that were given. A little disappointing in retrospect.

ZZ Top, Live at The Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre in Alpharetta, Georgia
Frank Beard

ZZ Top ended the night with a two-song encore of “La Grange” and “Tush.” As I left the amphitheater I couldn’t help but think that this would probably be my last opportunity to see them play live, and if it was, I knew that they were every bit as good as they were back in the 80s. ZZ Top remains one of the greatest and most influential American rock bands ever.

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