Words + Photos by Bobby Talamine
ZZ Top is without question one of the longest running bands with its original line-up, vocalist/guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist/vocalist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard, still intact. A feat many groups with half of ZZ Top’s longevity and legacy can say.
"We're the same three guys, bashing out the same three chords," Gibbons told the audience at the Hollywood Casino Ampitheatre on September 7th. The group may only see themselves as “that little ol’ band from Texas,” but after 50 years together and accolades that include an induction into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, ZZ Top is sure as hell anything but little.
Being their 50th Anniversary Tour, ZZ Top’s performance was heavy on the hits, including songs from their massive selling Eliminator, the album that cemented the group as MTV video icons. With their fuzzy guitar and bass on full display, ZZ Top performed “Legs,” “Gimmie All Your Lovin’,” and “Sharp Dressed Man” to an eager Chicago crowd.
Even with a setlist stacked with their hits, ZZ Top didn’t shy away from doing a few covers. While introducing their cover of Merle Travis’s "Sixteen Tons,” Gibbons talked about how in St. Louis the night before none other than Jeff Beck came onstage to perform the song with them.
How’d St. Louis get so lucky? It’s hard to say, but even without the aid of Jeff Beck onstage, it was clear “Sixteen Tons” was a song that is deeply beloved by the group with their soulful rendition.
From the stillness of “Sixteen Tons,” ZZ Top shifted gears into the raucous "Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers," with the vocal trade off between Gibbons and Hill. ZZ Top continued this high energy until the last song of the night, a cover of Elvis Presley’s "Jailhouse Rock."
Although ZZ Top weren’t accompanied by livestock and a live rattlesnake in plexiglass like they were during their 1977 Chicago Stadium performance on their Tejas Tour, the band still has the bite and energy that honors their strong blues roots and iconography. Iconography that has no peers, with their long beards front and center.
Eminently powerful, eminently soulful as always, ZZ Top’s power and influence has rippled far beyond the borders of Texas in their illustrious 50 years together.
As historic as this tour is, ZZ Top needed a heavy hitter group to help commemorate the occasion. Gibbons, Hill, and Beard looked at none other than Rockford's very own Cheap Trick to help with the celebration.
Consisting of the always fine vocals of Robin Zander, the crazy five-neck Hamer guitar antics of Rick Nielsen, the style and sophistication of bassist Tom Petersson, and backbeats provided by Rick’s son Daxx Neilson; Cheap Trick is a musical institution solidified as a power pop progenitor with catchy tunes like "I Want You to Want Me,” "Dream Police,” and of course “Surrender.”
Why three quarters of the people on the main floor chose to sit down for most of Cheap Trick's set, except for the notable songs, baffles me. Everyone in my section was standing and yelling out every lyric, some appearing older than me, and I'm well over sixty.
Local H’s Scott Lucas surprised the audience when he joined Cheap Trick to perform their biggest hit “Surrender.” A clear fan of the band himself, Lucas looked like he was having a grand ol' time, joining Rick towards the end of the song and flinging vinyls into the audience like frisbees during the song’s refrain "rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my Kiss records out."
ZZ Top's 50th Anniversary Tour with Cheap Trick at Tinley Park was a night of musical legends showcasing the talent that made them superstars. Though time always marches on, ZZ Top and Cheap Trick’s performance on September 7th showcased how their music and live shows are timeless.