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ZZ Top epitomizes classic rock 'n' roll cool at Pier Six Pavilion

By Lexie Mountain

Midnight Sun contributor

11:01 AM EDT, May 20, 2013

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I am going to have to apologize because I do not have a setlist and I don’t really know the names of the songs but does that matter? ZZ Top is the longest running rock 'n' roll band with its original lineup in history and they certainly wouldn’t fault me or you or anyone for not knowing what their songs were titled. I feel that I could guarantee that if you cornered guitarist Billy Gibbons and asked him very specific questions about very specific songs he would be bored out of his beard and possibly, politely, move on to another conversation. No, actually he seems really nice and relaxed. This is my professional opinion: ZZ Top is cool. As a band, as individuals, their whole thing: It oozes cool. Not the flames and roses tattoo motifs of their T-shirts and video backdrops. Them. The very them of it is what makes them cool.

At Pier Six Pavilion on Sunday night, they looked good, too. They looked really good, especially for people who have managed to find an image that defies age. Popped-out fedoras, sunglasses (at night!) and beards: What are they, rock muppets? Yes!

Listening to ZZ Top is like hearing where rock 'n' roll was discovered, underneath a stone, just so pure and basic but so brutal and large. The thing about ZZ Top is they are elementary. Twelve-bar blues, verse-chorus-verse-chorus, solo and you’re out. That’s it. ZZ Top is probably the only band ever that can pull off sparkly purple nudie-suit style jackets and still remain unpretentious. They are a core belief, a type of purity of method, and their live show reflects as much. The band played FIVE SONGS before saying a word to the crowd.

I apologize again. I do know the names of some of the songs, mostly because of those early records. I can’t help but be disappointed that they didn’t play my favorite song, “Snappy Kakkie” from 1976's "Tejas." But what am I going to do, cry into my $8 IPA? Not in public, at least.

The first portion of the show was largely given over to "Tres Hombres" gems such as “Waitin For the Bus," and what a gift. “Chartreuse,” from 2012's "La Futura," blended in seamlessly because every ZZ Top song is one gentle permutation of another, a total reassurance that rock 'n' roll is as it should be. Unchanged, unalterable, perfect in its replicability yet distinctively Top, all growling and shredding. A complete economy of rock 'n' roll.

Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill do not move around very much. They do not hop, nor do they skip, nor do they caper excessively in an effort to entertain. ZZ Top does not have to dance because they shred so viciously, and the three of them make a giant sound for such a small band. They are very cool about their talent, and prone to prank-style flourishes(a birthday cake appeared three quarters of the way through for Hill). There was a cigarette, possibly a cigarillo, in Gibbons' mouth, lit for him by a stagehand — a simple yet rebellious act in this day and age! Furthermore I cannot think of another band renowned for fluffy guitars, much less a band whose entire oeuvre is also based on a stripped-down, gnarly, shrieking approach to rock 'n' roll. Name a band that has formed an immediate association between puffy upholstered guitars and its most-recognizable hit. When those fuzzy white Gibsons came out, the place went nuts. People knew it was time for “Legs.”

Yes, “Legs” was good, as was “Sharp Dressed Man” before it, twin squealing MTV anthems slicing the end of the set with the glossy perfection of hookish writing and clean production. The encore seemed to occur thereafter without a pause, returning to the craggy hits that fixed ZZ Top’s star with the "Tres Hombres'" classic “La Grange” and the Dusty-helmed single “Tush,” from "Fandango."

Then, just as suddenly and coolly as they arrived, the master trio disappeared into the night, not ones for long goodbyes because (and here I pause to wipe a single tear from my eye and salute the riffs that have decorated the evening) it is certain they will be back.

Lexie Mountain is a Baltimore-based musician and artist. She last reviewed Fleetwood Mac for Midnight Sun. Wesley Case edited this review.