Today’s concert market is flooded with 20th century artists who either seldom or no longer record new music. For these legacy artists, every tour stop is largely a “greatest hits” show. These artists continue to draw considerable audiences, mostly senior citizens, with a lesser number of younger fans peppering the venues. ZZ Top is such an artist.
Formed in 1969 in Houston, Texas, the blues-rocking trio peaked in popularity from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s. ZZ Top has sold an estimated 50 million records worldwide.
For 51 years, ZZ Top was comprised of vocalist-guitarist Billy Gibbons, drummer Frank Beard, and bassist-vocalist Dusty Hill. Prior to his death in 2021, Hill requested that his bass tech, Elwood Francis, replace him as the band’s bassist. The current tour is Francis’ second as a player in ZZ Top.
The band’s recording output has diminished greatly in recent decades, with only three albums of new songs over the past 25 years. The band’s 15th and most recent studio album, La Futura, was released in 2012. Despite a lack of new material to introduce, ZZ Top lives constantly on the road, criss-crossing the nations to rock longtime fans with the songs they love to hear.
ZZ Top returned on September 6 to the Capitol Theatre, where the band also headlined less than a year ago. With no new recorded product, the 2023 audience basically knew all of what it was getting. Oddly, however, while ZZ Top’s 16-song repertoire was drawn from core fan favorites, the band is not performing two of its most-loved songs, “Tush” or “Cheap Sunglasses,” on this tour.
The performance opened with “Got Me Under Pressure,” in which Francis ventured to play a impractical 16-string bass guitar; the frets were so large that the instrument was utilized more for comic effect than for sound purposes. As the band played many of its better-known blues-rock boogies, Francis made playful stage moves, reminding the audience that humor is a big part of the band’s legacy. The first and final songs of the main set framed this novel attribute like bookends, as Gibbons and Francis concluded the main set by playing their iconic furry guitar and bass during “Legs.” Called back for an encore, Gibbons and Francis amused the audience by changing from black leather jackets to red sparkly jackets and sneakers.
The set included two covers, Sam and Dave’s “I Thank You” and Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons.” The rest of the show featured catalog originals. Gibbons powered the songs with his gravelly vocals and unique boogie guitar style. The skill and tightness of the band was impressive. ZZ Top is no longer breaking ground, however. The sound that was new and fresh in the 1970s is very familiar now and no longer as exciting. While the show showcased classic rock tunes, the performance did not refresh or reboot them. Nevertheless, good music is timeless, and a ZZ Top concert makes nostalgia fun.