There’s a good reason why they call it “classic rock.” Bands like ZZ Top (and many of their peers) cranked out hit after hit in the ’70s and ’80s, and those hits have had an incredible endurance, showing up in films, tv shows, commercials and video games over the decades exposing them to new generations. Of course, those songs have seemingly infinite life on the radio. And, for the bands who are still active, those classic songs make their setlists on their tours.
It can be problematic for some artists when the audience tries to tether them to their classic songs, particularly when those artists still actively record new music. Conversely, sticking with a band through their career – even giving their new material a shot – can be rewarding for both the fans and the audience. The latter was the case at New Jersey’s Bergen Performing Arts Center on May 14, as ZZ Top played songs spanning their entire 40 year career – and all of them got a great reaction from fans.
The rewards for the die-hards came early: the band took the stage (Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill playing bright violet guitars, and Frank Beard on a skull encrusted drum kit) with “Precious And Grace” from 1973′s Tres Hombres. From there, they went to last year’s excellent and underrated La Futura, playing “Heartache In Blue” and “Have A Little Mercy.”
After complimenting opening act The Ben Miller Band (more on them later), guitarist/singer Billy Gibbons commented, “They’re very organic. Everyone’s going green!”
He then added, “But green’s not bad” and then pulled out what appeared to be a hand rolled cigarette from his jacket pocket, to roars from the audience.
Throughout the show, they went back and forth through their career playing music from the ’70s (“Certified Blues” from 1971′s ZZ Top’s First Album, “Waiting For The Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” ”Heard It On The X” from 1975′s Fandango!), the ’90s (“Pincushion,” “My Head’s In Mississippi”), and, of course, their most successful album, 1983′s Eliminator (“Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” the latter of which they played on furry guitars).
It’s notable that the songs from La Futura went over well: “I Gotsta Get Paid” (adapted from a fairly obscure hip-hop song called “25 Lighters”) and “Chartreuse” were greeted warmly, and indeed, a woman in the front row handed Gibbons a copy of the new record on vinyl, which all three members autographed. La Futura was produced by Rick Rubin, who is famous for not going into the studio with legendary bands until the material holds up to their catalog. Judging by the audience’s reaction, Rubin can declare “mission accomplished” on the ZZ Top front.
After the encore, which featured their ’90s era cover of Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” along with ’70s hits “Tush” and “La Grange,” the show ended, and while some fans still lamented the fact that their old favorites were missing from the set (notably “Cheap Sunglasses”), the fact that the band has new classics adds weight to the older songs: ZZ Top still cranks out high voltage rock, four decades down the road.