ZZ Top, Brixton Academy, London
Tuesday 05 August 2003
By 1983, ZZ Top were already an ugly, less than youthful blues band. But few of their contemporaries, ugly or otherwise, played such a canny game with MTV. "Legs", "Sharp Dressed Man", "Gimme All Your Lovin'" - these were songs whose chart success was partly contingent on ace promo videos starring souped-up cars and leggy Texan gals. Meanwhile, the Top seemed content with clowning bit-parts involving furry guitars and what one suspected was a fair amount of perving behind biker shades. Am I implying that the music was secondary? Absolutely not. In bolting a synthesised backbeat on to the filthy chug of Billy Gibbons's guitar, ZZ Top revitalised Texan boogie.
That was 20 years ago, however, and the band are now in town to announce the arrival of Mescalero, due in September. The taut and infectious shuffle "Buck Nekkid" might be ZZ-by-numbers, but Mescalero also includes "Que Lastima", a banging techno-mariachi song sung entirely in Spanish. Together with the album's marimba-infused title track, it's further evidence that this "little ol' blues band" still likes to push the envelope.
When Gibbons and his bassist compadre Dusty Hill take the stage, the roar of approval is deafening. It's smiles all round, too, because the pair are wearing matching outfits of Stetsons, shades and ponchos that scream "Let us entertain you!" Deliciously, we acclimatise to all this as they stomp through "Gimme Me All Your Lovin'".
There is, of course, the matter of the beards. There's Frank Beard, ZZ Top's famously clean-shaven drummer. And then there are the beards sported by Gibbons and Hill: lengthy, two-pronged creatures so conspicuous and celebrated that they almost seem like extra band members. Hiding behind them, Gibbons and Hill can drop into choreographed moves without embarrassment, dancing through every hit from "Cheap Sunglasses" to "Legs".
All this showmanship is grounded in some fine close-harmony singing ("Pincushion", "Waitin' For The Bus") and some incredibly visceral music. Playing a guitar that was a gift from Bo Diddley, Gibbons unleashes scores of growling, low-register solos, the very best of which comes on "Rough Boy", where his use of false harmonics and controlled feedback seems magical.
Hirsute yet astute, ZZ Top are still consummate entertainers, then. They remind you how much fun the blues can be, yet never sound less than wholly authentic. As they encore with 1973's "La Grange", its riff long since stolen from John Lee Hooker, I'm wondering if Gibbons's and Hill's beards are insured. I'd have thought so, wouldn't you?
Game of Thrones
Arts & Ents blogs
- 2 Watch the Supermoon live: How to see the brightest Moon of the year tonight
- 3 Hulk Hogan wants to be Donald Trump's running mate in the US Presidential election
- 4 Blood Moon and Supermoon: September to bring brightest – and dimmest – full Moon of the year on same night
- 5 David De Gea to Real Madrid: Real finally get their man with £29m bid for Manchester United goalkeeper
Game of Thrones season 6: Jon Snow theorists believe Ned Stark's son may have a twin sister
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Monty Python-inspired Australian Sam Simmons wins comedy award with 'very silly' show
X Factor hopeful Mason Noise: 'How is Cheryl Fernandez-Versini in the music business, let alone a judge?'
Game of Thrones season 6: Director promises most exciting premiere yet 'starts off with a bang'
Star Wars: The Force Awakens: Online toy marathon to launch new film
Climate change: 2015 will be the hottest year on record 'by a mile', experts say
'Women only' train carriages: Jeremy Corbyn unveils radical move to tackle public harassment
Black holes are a passage to another universe, says Stephen Hawking
Iain Duncan Smith 'should resign over disability benefit death figures', says Jeremy Corbyn
Tony Blair attacks Jeremy Corbyn's 'Alice In Wonderland' politics
Theresa May says migrants should be banned from entering the UK unless they have jobs lined up