I am a child of the '80s.
I was there as a teenager to witness the birth of the age of the music video, and saw acts such as Duran Duran, Billy Idol and Madonna shoot to stardom on the merits of the bands' respective clips on MTV.
Although ZZ Top enjoyed a respectable amount of fame prior to the dawn of MTV, it wasn't until the release of "Eliminator" in 1983, coupled with a trio of music videos, that ZZ Top's career was launched into the rock-'n'-roll stratosphere.
"Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Legs" all featured the things that appealed to any 13-year-old, red-blooded American kid: beautiful women, a cool car and loud guitar playing. Oh, and there was also the matter of the three guys who populated the videos, two of whom sported chest-length beards. That was my introduction to ZZ Top, and I ate that stuff up. Amazingly, ZZ Top has never won a Grammy. Not nearly as amazing, but notable for me, is that in the quarter-century since first hearing ZZ Top's music, I had never seen the little band from Texas live. That item was officially scratched off my bucket list Sunday night.
To say that guitarist Billy Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard have their act down is like saying that Big Ben is pretty good at telling time.
The trio has been together for almost 40 years, with no changes in band members. U2 is the only band I can think of that even comes close to that, and ZZ Top has six years or so on Bono and his boys. The interaction between Hill and Gibbons in particular seems to be almost psychic.
The crowd at the North Charleston Performing Arts Center was ready for the band when it hit the stage. Beard took his place behind a drum set that was tricked out to look like a hot rod, and started banging out the intro to the first song of the evening, "Gimme All Your Lovin'," which was the first song I ever heard from the band.
As Hill and Gibbons joined in on bass and guitar, Gibbons' gruff vocals kicked in, and I realized why ZZ Top has endured through '70s rock, '80s new wave, '90s grunge, and even the stuff playing on the radio these days.
The trio is without a doubt one of the tightest rock outfits I have ever seen play live. Gibbons' blues guitar playing is no mere studio creation. Live, on stage, the guy absolutely shreds on his ax. The beards have also served Hill and Gibbons well over the years, because although the pair are both in their late 50s, thanks to the beards, they still look basically the same as when I first saw them on MTV.
ZZ Top kept the crowd happy with a set that relied on the trio's numerous hits, including "Got Me Under Pressure," "Waitin' for the Bus," "Jesus Just Left Chicago" and "Pin Cushion."
Gibbons, who like Hill was clad all in black, with the band's trademark sunglasses in place, paused a few songs into the set to greet the audience, saying he knew he was down South when he asked where he was and someone told him, "South Keh-lyna!"
More hits followed, including "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," "Just Got Paid," "Cheap Sunglasses" and "Sharp Dressed Man." With the exception of a couple of songs where Gibbons played a gold Gibson Les Paul guitar, he and Hill had stuck to a matching, blinding white bass and guitar set. For the next song, "Legs," out came another bit of rock-'n'-roll memorabilia, the fuzzy bass and guitar. For those that have never seen the accompanying video for "Legs," the instruments looked as if they had been covered in some sort of white faux fur. It was over the top, and the crowd loved it.
For the encore, the band returned to the stage to perform a trio of songs that included "Tube Snake Boogie," "La Grange" and "Tush." The show was everything I had expected it to be, and it cannot be stressed how big a sound comes out of those three guys in a live setting.
It may have taken 25 years, but I finally saw three of my favorite rock-'n'-roll idols.
Prior to ZZ Top taking the stage, the early birds were treated to a really good opener, Blackberry Smoke.
Hailing from Atlanta, Blackberry Smoke's four-piece rock assault reminded me of a mix of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Black Oak Arkansas and a bit of Zeppelin. No, scratch that. They actually sounded more like Stillwater, the fictional band from the film "Almost Famous." I almost expected to hear them tear into "Fever Dog."
These guys wanted to be a '70s rock band so bad, with their boot-cut jeans, turquoise jewelry and long hair, and they blew the roof off the PAC. Here's hoping Blackberry Smoke returns to Charleston soon.
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