Living legends, ZZ Top, southern boogied their way into town this week on the first date of the UK leg of their European tour. To my shame it’s been 32 years since I last saw a ZZ Top show, when they headlined the Monsters of Rock festival at Castle Donington in 1985. As a result, I headed along to the Apollo in Manchester UK (a venue I’ve frequented hundreds of times and witnessed some outstanding shows) with a fair amount of excitement.
A crowd of mostly middle aged, former long-haired rockers packed themselves, sardine-like into the 3,500 capacity, seventy nine year old theatre. A sold out Apollo hosting most other bands would still offer plenty of room to breathe. ZZ Top’s demographic however, myself included, aren’t as slim as they used to be. Hence the problems security had keeping the walkways clear of punters, aching for a better view. A simple stage set of a black starlit back curtain and two racks of amps and speakers complimented by two Hot Rod cylinder microphone stands, either side of Frank Beard’s drum kit awaited them. For a band due to celebrate their 50th anniversary in 2019, I suppose nothing more is needed.
As always ‘Got Me Under Pressure’ kicks off proceedings. Unsurprisingly, the MTV friendly ‘Eliminator’ album provides tonight’s main sing-a-long songs. ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’ slotting in nice and early, way before set closers ‘Sharp Dressed Man’ and ‘Legs’. The latter providing some neat choreography and being the only song of the night to show off Billy F Gibbons and Dusty Hill’s white fluffy guitars!
‘I Gotsa Get Paid’ and ‘Chartreuse’ were the only two songs featured from their latest studio album ‘La Futura’. That quality album now being five years old means the aforementioned songs have been mainstays in the set for half a decade and are almost regarded alongside other classics in the set tonight such as ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’, ‘I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide’ and ‘Cheap Sunglasses’. Hopefully a new album is in the pipeline.
One nice touch was when Billy called out his legendary guitar tech Elwood Francis to play slide steel guitar and accompany them on a cover of Buck Owens & his Buckaroos’ ‘Act Naturally’. Elwood, looking more punk than country blues with his bright red hair and black & white striped trousers, became the fourth member of ZZ Top for 3 minutes and pulled it off with ease.
Billy, Dusty and Frank step it up a notch during the encore of ‘La Grange’ and everyone’s favourite ZZ Top classic ‘Tush’. Dusty taking over the vocal duties while Billy shredded his guitar and smoked on what ‘looked’ like a cigar! Then, after a quick second encore of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ they were gone.
Although we didn’t see much deviation from the straight down the line blues/boogie, nor did we see any theatrics (not that we expected any, even the large video screens from their last UK tour in 2013 were gone), Billy, Dusty and Frank kept this capacity crowd enthralled, entertained and in the palms of their hands with 100 minutes of quality music.
If I had one complaint, it’s that the 20 song set contained 5 cover versions! Surely a couple of ZZ Top classics that were missing, notably ‘Tube Snake Boogie’ or ‘Rough Boy’ could have replaced one or two of them? Aside from that, it was a faultless performance which sent three and a half thousand rockers, who may not be as slim as they used to be, home very happy!
Photography by Shayne Friessner-Day