By DAN MACINTOSH
IRVINE – ZZ Top, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, topped a classic rock fan’s dream bill – which also included Lynyrd Skynyrd and Cheap Trick – at Irvine’s makeshift outdoor venue with a strong set of blues-inspired Rock N Roll. The trio stuck mostly to the hits, but also included a few welcome cover songs. Fans left this show after experiencing a classic rock dream come true.
It wasn’t all that long ago that ZZ Top was an unlikely MTV favorite, back when music videos were still a thing. The group’s videos featured sexy girls and a sexy car and these Texas musicians somehow made blues-derived music palatable to (mostly) hair-sprayed synth poppers at the time. That was nothing short of a modern-day miracle.
Both Billy Gibbons (guitar) and Dusty Hill (bass) brandished Jackson Pollack-esque, colorfully paint-splattered musical instruments, and dressed – of course – like sharp dressed men. They opened with “Got Me Under Pressure,” with its robotically bluesy vibe, and quickly transitioned from song to song, with little time in between tunes. The first cover, Sam and Dave’s “I Thank You,” came quickly at song two. While the group played a lot of its 80s, technically enhanced blues, including “Legs” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” the band also performed straight blues, exemplified by “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” The other ZZ Topped cover was “Sixteen Tons,” one of the best workingman’s blues songs of all time. The band boogied off with “Tush,” after giving fans a smart, tight 50th anniversary overview they won’t soon forget.
Lynyrd Skynyrd preceded ZZ Top for this SoCal stop on its Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour. Although its current lineup only includes a few of the band’s original members, this nine-member cast deftly recreated many of the Southern rock icon’s best songs live. Surprisingly, on the one night when a cry for “Free Bird” would be totally unnecessary, some fans still yelled for it before the group encored with its popular one-night stand song. Yes, it’s one of the very best dueling guitar songs, it’s worth noting, though, that its piano part, played wonderfully by pianist Peter Keys, is also an essential instrumental element. There was just something cathartic about singing along at full capacity with this song, and “Sweet Home Alabama,” on a warm Southern California evening. The band just has so many stellar hits to choose from, too. There’s the ballad, “Simple Man,” dedicated this night to the U.S. military and a couple of memorable anti-drug songs, “That Smell” and “The Needle and the Spoon.” Great players and great songs always add up to a great night of music.
Cheap Trick opened at the early Rock N Roll hour of 6 p.m. [In the interest of full disclosure, this writer only heard the end of the band’s set while awaiting a ticket at will call]. The group nicely replicated its best song, “Dream Police,” live and had the audience singing along to “Surrender.” One wonders how many of these dusted off their old KISS records after arriving home after the show, for nostalgia’s sake.
Music from the classic rock era isn’t always classic. Some of it just bad oldies, to be honest. However, it’s tough to argue with the greatness of these three billed acts. Each one lived up to is classic rock status tonight.
ZZ Top – I Thank You – Courtesy of Kellrox