More than four decades into their careers together, the legends that make up ZZ Top can still rock a theater, as their performance at Kingston’s beautiful Ulster Performing Arts Center (UPAC) on March 13 evinced. After guitarist Billy Gibbons declared the only two rules—1) no drinking during gospel tunes, and 2) no gospel tunes would be played—the Hall of Famers pumped out hit after hit to an elated Upstate crowd.
Sporting their signature long beards, dark black pants and jackets, and cheap sunglasses, Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill took stage in front of ironically beardless drummer Frank Beard. The sold-out crowd instantly recognized nearly every song, from “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” to encore “La Grange.” Gibbons shredded bluesy solos in his distinguishable Southern-rock tone and Hill thumped out thick bass lines. Beard remained steady, occasionally unloading tight fills between drags from his cigarette.
While many stages look like early computer rooms with pedals strewn all over and cords snaking around, ZZ Top’s stage was completely unsullied and their sound sans effects. Gibbons and Hill’s bravado was on full display with the clean floor-space; they stepped in tune and rocked guitars with their patented syncopated shuffle. On a projector screen in the background, a blond beauty led the audience through a journey featuring images that corresponded with songs. Volcanoes erupted during “Got Me Under Pressure” and the band members were dressed to impress and driving fast cars during “Sharp Dressed Man.” Following a solo in “Whiskey’n Mama,” Gibbons flipped his guitar over to reveal a homemade sign on the back—“BEER”—to the crowd’s chagrin. Before the set’s finale (“Legs”) Gibbons and Hill disappeared for a moment to grab white, fur-lined instruments. Beard stayed away from the fur, but his bass drums did both have light-up tiki heads carved out in the middle.
Iconic classic rock tunes poured out for nearly ninety minutes straight. ZZ Top showed why it has been on top of the rock universe during the past six decades. The band’s musicianship and showmanship rivaled each other on stage and the trio’s unapologetic devotion to booze, boobs, and blues has earned them a devoted and boisterous fan base. The only downside to the show was that it came to an end despite vehement requests from the crowd for a second encore.
Setlist: Got Me Under Pressure, Waitin’ For The Bus, Jesus Just Left Chicago, Gimme All Your Lovin’, I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide, Pincushion, I Gotsta Get Paid, Flyin’ High, Foxy Lady, Tube Snake Boogie, Cheap Sunglasses, My Head’s In Mississippi, Whiskey’n Mama, Sharp Dressed Man, Legs
Encore: La Grange, Tush