ZZ Top / Oct. 5, 2008 / Cleveland (Allen Theatre)
Driven with precision like a timeless classic car maintained and updated for each era, ZZ Top belies nearly 40 years of high mileage with its guitar-defining sound.Driven with precision like a timeless classic car maintained and updated for each era, ZZ Top belies nearly 40 years of high mileage with its guitar-defining sound.
The Texas band is somewhat of a relic, having graciously found kinship in the automobile. Whether it's the famous hot rod in its '80s MTV hits or just the fact the band has successfully incorporated the sound and feel of up-shifting gears as its rhythm section, ZZ Top is designed for the working class who have traversed the potholes, blown through a few red lights and feel the open road.
That said, the blue-collar friendly audience attending the band's Cleveland stop of its "In Your Face Tour" were ready for something special, something jamming and most importantly, another evening of Lone Star State rock blues. ZZ Top didn't waste any time with sentimental salutations or aggrandizing displays of importance. Instead, the sunglasses-wearing threesome walked on stage with bassist-singer Dusty Hill and guitarist-singer Billy Gibbons decked out in rock star motif (black astronaut-looking outfits with matching lunar boots, biker caps and motorcycle goggles).
Despite such a visual dichotomy (the working masses paying homage to the costumed classic rock act) the entire scene felt like an inside joke that served both parties involved. The audience enjoyed the walk down memory lane with its turbo-cool band, while the group transformed the adulation into non-stop music.
Kicking off the evening with projected images of sparkplugs flying over their heads and the straightforward sounds of "Got Me Under Pressure," ZZ Top immediately got down and dirty with a career-retrospective set that perfectly suited the intimacy of the nearly three-quarters filled venue.
Throughout the evening Gibbons kept the guitar riffs meticulous yet loose while Hill and drummer Frank Beard (still un-bearded) melded into a single unit of foundation and rhythm. The band was beyond tight.
The 90-minute show was basically divided into two parts, the first being old school, early '70s ZZ Top album gems ("Waitin' for the Bus", "Jesus Just Left Chicago," "Chevrolet" and "Just Got Paid") followed later, in almost matter-of-fact fashion, with the group's '80s trifecta of "Eliminator" MTV hits ("Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Legs"). The band ignored its latest studio effort, 2003's "Mescalero."
While the lineage between the two types of tracks -- the gritty blues jams and the radio hits -- was evident, there was definitely a feeling the latter was polished and calculated mainstream material. Still, the audience didn't seem to care. As long as the band provided its roots (the dynamic "Cheap Sunglasses," the crunchy "La Grange" and anthemic "Tush") with a few surprises to boot (Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" and Elvis Presley's "Jailhouse Rock"), the shades-wearing, beard-sporting, rough and tumble ZZ Top crowd were easily satiated.
Considering ZZ Top's next move is a Rick Rubin-produced project tentatively due out next year, this trio appears to be making another run into the fast lane. If this show was any indication, that's exactly where the band has been seemingly driving for decades.
Here is ZZ Top's set list:
"Got Me Under Pressure"
"Waitin' for the Bus"
"Jesus Just Left Chicago"
"I Need You Tonight"
"Heard It On The X"
"Just Got Paid"
"Gimme All Your Lovin'"
"Sharp Dressed Man"