File photo: Clayton Taylor
Gimmicks usually don’t last long, and especially not for 50 years.
ZZ Top may not be a gimmick, but they are at least gimmick-y. Take the matching leather jackets, rampant double entendres, fur-lined guitars and then raise it by two foot-long beards. And, get this – the one guy in the trio that doesn’t have a beard has the last name Beard! Surprise!
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
Who: Walmart Community Concert with Elle King
When: 7:30 p.m. June 24
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $9 plus fees
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or visit arkansasmusicpavilion.com for information.
But here’s the thing with ZZ Top, the trio from Texas who released their first album in 1971: They’ve stuck with it. Unlike so many bands from their heyday, the ZZ Top lineup that released their first album, called “ZZ Top’s First Album,” is still the exact same lineup. They play the same kind of hook-heavy blues rock they always played. There have been a few pop(ish) detours along the way, but the form is the same.
Guitarist, songwriter and primary vocalist Billy Gibbons made the joke himself onstage last night in front of a robust crowd of perhaps 7,000 or more at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers.
“It’s the same three guys right here. It’s the same three chords, too,” he said.
It was the same fans, too. Many had on tour shirts from decades ago, and I would put the average age of attendees at around 50.
ZZ Top has found their formula, and they refuse to go elsewhere. Sure, they took the slightest diversion into country rock with the back-to-back arrangements of Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons” and Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally,” the latter of which included their guitar technician playing a bit of pedal steel.
But, none of the songs strayed far from the thick hooks, thudding rhythm section and the gravel in Gibbons’ voice. And all but one of the songs, “I Gotsta Get Paid” from 2012, were radio staples for them or other artists.
It was a highly choreographed concert, both subtly in the way Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill swayed in unison during several moments, and more overtly in the way the show was paced. The set list was identical to several previous set lists, right down to the performance of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock” as the second encore. A second encore, you said? Yes, just like usual – “Jailhouse Rock” has been the second encore for nine of the last 10 shows for which I found a published setlist.
Even with short breaks between the main show and the encores, the routine clocked in with a brisk run time of just less than 70 minutes. They started at just after 8:30 p.m., which meant there wasn’t much time for messing around. There wasn’t much fuss onstage either. Gibbons, a man of prodigious talent with a six string, soloed often but never for very long. Hill and drummer Frank Beard also had a moment or two to show off their individual talents, but that didn’t take long in the scheme of things. The backdrop behind the band was simple, too – just a starry sky with red, white and blue lights filling the top third of the frame.
ZZ Top, despite their silly appearances and silly lyrics, were pretty serious about their rock and roll. They’ll probably play these same songs for 50 more years, and that’s worth seeing once.
A note about the opener: Touring with ZZ Top on the “Tonnage” tour is Austin Hanks, an Alabama native touring with his Americana/rock band. He performed a brief, guitar-focused set. It didn’t do much for me. I think I would have rather seen him in a club somewhere, in front of a crowd that wasn’t there just to see their beloved headliner.