At one point during ZZ Top’s Tuesday night concert at Artpark, guitarist Billy Gibbons noted that the band had “been coming up here for nearly five decades.” Then the trio roared into another tune for its enraptured Western New York fan base – just like the band has been doing for nearly a half-century.
This was an audience willing to withstand inclement weather for a chance to catch the band perform. Rain gear and multiple layers of clothing were desired apparel for the conditions but many people were dressed as though normal June temps would prevail.
An undulating array of umbrellas rose up and down as their owners reacted to the elements. The swirling winds blew steam out into the gorge instead of on the stage and guys were pushing squeegees, attempting to steer water away from the equipment so the concert could begin.
Eventually ZZ Top walked out, the opening riff for “Got Me Under Pressure” was struck and the concert got underway. The groove was solid and the rhythm section of bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard locked everything in place with Gibbons’ ripsaw chords.
The band’s tunes are crunchy, guitar-centric, blues-drenched tales of excess and dreams – all with a backbeat to help keep the feet active. Thoughts about political correctness were probably never considered when writing lyrics, just as long as the band came up with a memorable catch phrase and left enough space for Gibbons to tear into another tautly constructed instrumental interlude.
The group's playlist for the evening included a mix of hits and some cover tunes. Familiar riffs segued into each other like the ingredients in a well-crafted recipe.
It was basically an oldies show in which songs such as “Cheap Sunglasses,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” “Sharped Dressed Man,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago” and “Gimme All Your Lovin’ ” encouraged sing-along moments every time the chorus of those tunes came up.
When the band wasn’t mining its own catalog, Gibbons was introducing other classic rock material in the mix. That’s why ZZ Top’s take on country classics such as Merle Travis’ “16 Tons” and Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally” atypically showed up in the set after a brief tale of the time the band toured with Jeff Beck and covered those chestnuts.
Austin Hanks was the opening act for the evening and delivered a hard rockin’ set of songs that fit well within the southern rock sphere of influence. His showing up on the undercard was a comfortable fit, especially because Hanks co-wrote “Flyin’ High” with Gibbons for ZZ Top’s “La Futura” album. The vocals were strong and the lead guitar player in Hanks’ support cast was flashy in a good way, lending just enough filigree to raise the bar a bit but not so much that the curves of the melody got lost. The audience responded well.
ZZ Top performed Tuesday evening at Artpark, Lewiston.