If it is possible to make a deal with the devil for greater musical notoriety, 1983 was evidently the year of ZZ Top’s own crossroads transaction, as the band hasn’t been the same since. No image of aging bluesmen, mired in obscurity, for these three. In stark contrast, they continue to play before thousands each night, surrounded by flashy lighting and their MTV videos projected onto theatrically arranged amps while executing synchronized stage moves and recycling stage patter. It’s almost a “Twilight Zone” episode — and more’s the pity.
The power triumvirate of “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” (all from 1983’s diamond-selling “Eliminator” album) late in the workmanlike hour-plus concert certainly satisfied the aud’s hit recognition factor. But the slide clinic guitarist Billy Gibbons put on earlier during “Just Got Paid,” from the group’s second album, 1972’s “Rio Grande Mud,” served as the night’s real highlight among ax aficionados; it was a reminder of what the band was capable of musically before being locked in by the mechanization of their sound and vision.
Gibbons’ effortless style of playing belies a singular tone, created by an often-imitated, never-duplicated amp set-up and his abundant use of piercing harmonics. But given the confines of the set, outside-of-the-box jams to put his talent on display were few and far between, limited to the occasional extended outro.
While it’s no small feat to craft a hit, much less to stay “the same three guys, playing the same three chords” as Gibbons has been saying for some time now, the road not taken surely would have been more adventurous sonically for these blooze purveyors, as it were, had they not become virtual slaves to their public persona.
Dr. John (Mac Rebennack) and his band the Lower 911 did their damnedest to warm up the crowd in a 45-minute opening slot on the chilly autumn eve (the venue’s concert season had been granted an extension of a few weeks in the aftermath of the Griffith Park fire in May). But just as the good doctor’s N’awlins-infused originals and standards — ranging from his own “One 2 A.M. Too Many” and “Right Place, Wrong Time” to Leadbelly’s “Good Night Irene” and Johnny Mercer’s “Blues in the Night” — got to simmering, the too-brief sesh was over.