ZZ Top by Adam McCann
Manchester O2 Apollo
-Got Me Under Pressure -Waitin’ For The Bus -Jesus Just Left Chicago -Gimme All Your Lovin’ -Pincushion -I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide -I Gotsta Get Paid -Foxy Lady -My Head’s In Mississippi -Brown Sugar/Catfish Blues -Sixteen Tons -Act Naturally -Cheap Sunglasses -Chartreuse -Just Got Paid -Sharp Dressed Man -Legs -La Grange -Tush -Jailhouse Rock
“ZZ Top continue to be the kings of cool”
Is there anything better to do on a warm, muggy day in Manchester than to put on your cheap sunglasses, crack out them fluffy guitars, get in your red hot rod, clean up your beard and rock out to the kings of cool, ZZ Top? Well, today we were in for a treat because the little ol’ band from Texas was back in the UK and in particular, Manchester to treat us to ZZ Top’s unique take on the blues and to show us why 45 years on, when it comes to oozing the classic Texan hospitality, there is none better than Billy F. Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard.
Tonight is a sell out at the Manchester O2 Apollo, an old converted cinema and theatre and one of the best venues in the city is an old familiar haunt of ZZ Top. As the venue fills up, you quickly realise that tonight is not just hear say, it is definitely a sell out as a huge game of sardines begins. On the road with ZZ Top are Californian blues rockers; The Red Devils. As far as blues bands go, The Red Devils were passable, their blend of the boozy bar room blues of George Thorogood & The Destroyers coupled with the 1960’s vibe of the electric blues made popular by the likes of The Yardbirds, John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers and Taste, turned the Manchester Apollo into a run-down dive bar out on Highway 61. However, just like an old jukebox that’s been banging out Muddy Waters for the past 40 years, The Red Devils although exceptionally talented, fade little more into background music. Unfortunately for The Red Devils, their set is dogged with what can only be amateur mistakes, vocalist Big Pete van der Pluijm quite literally and metaphorically dropped the mic on one occasion, causing an insufferably loud pop throughout the venue, as well as missing more than one vocal cue. In all honesty, mistakes happen, but tonight, they were all too often with The Red Devils, the band themselves seemed in more than a rush to get off the stage, saying very little to the audience and what was said was borderline audible/coherent. The icing on the cake however, was the false start towards the end of their set causing The Red Devils to restart the song, this sort of blundering can be best reserved for a pub band playing cover songs, but not for a band out on the road supporting the likes of ZZ Top, with the only highlight being a relatively good take on Bo Diddley’s ‘Who Do You Love?’.
All is forgotten as ZZ Top take to stage, through a no frills short burst intro tape before tearing into ‘Got Me Under Pressure’ from their mega multi- platinum 1983 album; ‘Eliminator’ and in true ZZ Top style, this is followed by crowd favourites, the one, two blues punch of ‘Waitin’ for the Bus’ and ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’ from ‘Tres Hombres’ released 10 years before ‘Eliminator’ in 1973. Initially, the sound for ZZ Top is rather weak with relatively large gaps of sound between the unmistakable Billy Gibbons guitar tone as he tears out blues lick after blues lick against the 50 years strong backbone of Dusty Hill and Frank Beard. With ZZ Top, a rather weak sound can be forgiven, they are 3 piece, there are no gimmicks in their sound, ZZ Top do what they have honed over their 50 year career and when you watch Gibbons, you are reaffirmed that he is one of the world’s most humbly underrated guitarists. As ‘Jesus Just Left Chicago’ draws to a close, the sound levels had well and truly sorted themselves out as ZZ Top bring the Manchester Apollo to a climax by performing their arguably most well-known song; ‘Gimme All Your Lovin’’ and from here, ZZ Top crank out hit after hit; ‘Pincushion’, the hip-hop styled ‘I Gotsta Get Paid’ and the deep blues of ‘My Heads in Mississippi’.
The only downside to ZZ Top tonight is that they spend a little too much time messing about with cover songs, from a salute to the Jimi Hendrix Experience with ‘Foxy Lady’, a nod to their past with ‘Brown Sugar’ before launching into the blues standard ‘Catfish Blues’ and then country? ZZ Top suddenly took a rather sharp country deviation with the band paying tribute to Merle Travis and Jerry Reed with ‘Sixteen Tons’. However, if that wasn’t country enough for you, then the band brought out part of their road crew to play steel guitar as ZZ Top became slightly redneck to the song; ‘Act Naturally’. As diabolical as this was, it did show another dimension to Gibbons’ voice, a side which is seldom heard over his cigar smokin’, drenched in bourbon drawl.
As ZZ Top pushed through hit after hit; ‘Cheap Sunglasses’, ‘Legs’ ‘Sharp Dressed Man’, ‘Tush’ and ‘La Grange’ you realise that there is no other band cooler than ZZ Top. Only ZZ Top could get away with fluffy guitars and rhinestone matching jackets. Other than country interlude, there was no surprises tonight and ZZ Top played a safe and comfortable set complete with choreographed moves and roles that have grown and are just as embedded in the ZZ Top set as ‘La Grange’. ZZ Top are uniquely cool, no other band sounds like them and wherever they go, they bring a little bit of that Texan southern hospitality with them and Manchester reciprocated giving ZZ Top the best of their northern charm and love.
Adam McCann/ MHF Magazine