Hot licks, great tone, heavy riffs, and those raspy and soulful vocals … guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill, and drummer Frank Beard of ZZ Top made it look easy last night (Sunday, June 8th) in front of loud packed-house at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center. Approaching their 40th year as a trio, they looked pleased and at ease.

[image-1]With their matching white guitars, Gibbons (in black biker gear and shades) and Hill (in a black sweat jacket, jeans, and cowboy boots … and shades) strolled out onto a refreshingly bare stage set up consisting only of Beard’s sizeable double-kick drum kit, a red fabric backdrop, and three white-painted amp stacks on either side of the drum riser. The pounding opener “Gimme All Your Lovin’” — one of several droning hits in the set from the 1983 album Eliminator — brought the entire audience to their feet. Gibbons voice sounded surprisingly strong through “Under Pressure” (my favorite rocker from Eliminator), but his guitar tone was the best thing blasting from the speakers — thick, fuzzy, sustained, edgy, and mean — on his solos and rhythm work.

[image-2]Up next was the famous double-shot from Tres Hombres of “Waitin’ For The Bus” (“Have mercy, y’all!”) right into the slinky “Jesus Just Left Chicago” (“That muddy Mississippi water turned in to so fine red wine,” Gibbons elaborated during one verse). Beard loosened up a bit on the kit during this jam, adding just a few extra-tasty rolls and fills without losing the groove … his billiard ball-topped cymbal stands were a nice touch, too.

On an extended rendition of “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” Gibbons traded slide licks, chicken-pickin’ solos, and pinched harmonics with Hill before “going south of the border” with a fiery version of “Heard It On the X,” one of several old fan favorites featuring that classic call-and-response double lead vocal between them both (most of the crowd clapped in time during the big break — just like the studio track!).

“We’re the same three guys and the same three chord,” laughed Gibbons, during one of his asides on the mic between tunes. He and Hill looked almost too hip in the shades and hats — especially when they gestured, pointed, and chuckled at each other and at the audience. There was a genuine connection between the bandmates — and between the band and the fans in the seats. No frills, no distractions, and no tricks.

[image-3]Other highlights included “Just Got Paid” from Rio Grande Mud, a few newly-penned heavy-beat blues tunes in 6/8 time, an amusingly dirty introduction to “Planet of Women” (from Afterburner), and the closing two-fer of “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs,” replete with plenty of great fuzzed-out guitar work from Gibbons. The encore featured the unremarkable “Tube Steak Boogie” and a totally rockin’ boogie blow-out of “La Grange” right into “Tush.” Beard nailed the big fills and drove it with the classic shuffle beats across the snare. Hill belted out the verses in “Tush.” Billy G delivered hot guitar sounds with an ease of spirit. It was awesome.

(Photographs by Jon Santiago)