Photos & Story by Scott A. Smith
Lengthy, fuzzy beards? Check.
Sequined, south-of-the-border jackets? Check.
Cool-as-the-breeze sunglasses? Check.
Loud, purple-colored guitars? Yep, ZZ Top still has these and quite a bit more.
ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons (guitar, vocals), Dusty Hill (bass,vocals) and Frank Beard (drums, vocals) remain rock music’s sharp-dressed men, and more importantly, they continue to be a sonic force to be reckoned with under the stage lights.
The “Little Ol’ Band from Texas” fired up a hit-single-friendly set list for a capacity audience on Oct. 18 at The Joint inside the Tulsa Hard Rock in Catoosa, Okla., proving to be a willing-and-able unit bent on delivering the musical goods.
Within seconds of the house lights darkening, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band infused grit into the night-opener, “Got Me Under Pressure,” with Gibbons’ six-string picking staking claim to the sound system’s mid-range frequencies.
The song’s bouncy rhythms and side-stepping arrangement immediately put band and spectators in an easy-going mood.
That upbeat, party-like vibe sustained itself through the evening, with “Waiting on the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs,” “La Grange” and “My Head’s In Mississippi” also keeping fans in chipper spirits.
Beard thumped out the songs’ beats with authority while Gibbons’ fluid fret-work meshed swampy blues, Tex-Mex rock and recurring traces of rockabilly styles. Gibbons’ solos simply were outstanding, helping push ZZ Top to an even greater level of playing than their solid 2008 gig in Fort Smith, Ark. and their 2009 warm-up slot for Aerosmith in Tulsa.
Hill’s bass playing remains impressive, as well. Possessing a tone that included both a fat low end a la U2’s Adam Clayton and a pinging, John Entwistle-esque high end, Hill’s sound continuously negated any potential need for a keyboardist or second guitarist.
Even “Flyin'” and “I Gotsta Get Paid,” which aren’t as well known as ZZ Top’s FM rock radio staples, came out swinging as champs on the Tulsa stage. “Pincushion” summoned satisfied screams from the audience, as did ZZ Top’s affectionate cover of Jim Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”
Gibbons also was in a chatty state of mind, joking with the audience early in the night.
“Well, here we are,” he said while flashing a bright-white, Foo Fighters-like smile. “ZZ Top finally made the big time, playing the casinos.”
Many audience members laughed before cheering the lanky six-string hero. When one fan held up a ZZ Top vinyl record near the front row at stage right, Gibbons extended his arm before being handed the gatefold cover.
But Gibbons nor the fan had a pen to make Gibbons’ autograph possible. Another fan from the opposite side of the room offered Gibbons a Sharpie, which Gibbons used to sign the LP jacket. Gibbons then handed the album cover to Hill and Beard for their autographs before handing the now-valuable cover back to the fan.
“Now, these Sharpies are 98 cents at Walgreens,” Gibbons told the fan while laughing. “You have to go get a Sharpie now.”
Several minutes later, ZZ Top were uncorking an energized version of “Tush,” with Hill’s belted vocals coming within shooting distance of his original studio efforts. Hill also sounded like a pro on a set-closing take of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock,” with Gibbons’ distorted guitar intro nudging many spectators in the upper level out of their comfy theater-style seats and into dancing-in-place fun.
Despite standing shy of the 80-minute mark, ZZ Top’s set in Tulsa proved a winning streak for the Tres Hombres’ faithful followers — so much so that no one in the crowd seemed to notice (or care) that “Cheap Sunglasses,” one of the Top’s most-beloved numbers, was never played.