For rock bands of a certain vintage, it’s a very fine line between continuing to play for the love of the game and coasting.
More than once Friday, during the latest stop on its “Grooves & Gravy” tour, ZZ Top found itself on the wrong side of that line.
The “little ol’ band from Texas” — Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard — had the sold-out crowd screaming, shouting, singing and snapping endless photos inside the Music Hall at Fair Park, a space either framing a rock concert beautifully or swallowing it whole. (Friday’s experience, ZZ Top’s first area show in three years, was more on the thudding, muddy and murky end of things.)
The Houston-formed trio is bearing down on a half century of existence, and none of its members are younger than 65. These two facts mean ZZ Top is, without question, entering its twilight years.
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Some acts, faced with such a realization, dig deep and recast their youthful inspirations from their new perspective, giving weight and depth to the past, present and future.
Some acts lean into schtick, relying on goodwill and past glory to carry them.
Cue the furry instruments from the once-ubiquitous Legs video, and sequin-studded jackets for the encore — ZZ Top wasn’t interested in exploring the more colorful corners of its catalog, just doling out the hits and little else, please and thank you. (The mercenary feel was reinforced by the night’s shocking brevity — the main set was wrapped up in just 60 minutes.)
There was no shortage of high-octane singles — Gimme All Your Lovin’; I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide; Sharp Dressed Man; Waitin’ for the Bus — although nearly all of them were rendered in such a plodding manner as to be totally enervating.
The people around me squealing and exclaiming and singing along seemed as if they might be lost more in a fog of memory than hearing what was actually emanating from the stage.
There were furtive moments where ZZ Top sparked to life — a bluesy breakdown at the end of Jesus Just Left Chicago, or the ragged, raw rendition of Robert Petway’s Catfish Blues — but they were throwaways, tucked into a set list of well-worn melodies, familiar banter and pandering (at one point, Gibbons grabbed Hill so a fan straining to snap a picture could get a shot of them both).
“The choice is up to you ‘cause they come in two classes/Rhinestone shades and cheap sunglasses,” goes the line from one of the band’s many beloved hits.
It wasn’t hard to figure out which pair best defined Friday’s show.