The ZZ Top date in June is becoming a bit of an annual event. Three years ago I saw the mighty Texans play on 25 June at Hammersmith Odeon; last year on June 24 we saw a blistering show with Thunder in support at Wembley Arena and this year we headed to one of my least favourite venues, the 02 Academy in Birmingham to catch the band’s warm up show for their appearance at Glastonbury. Luckily we had managed to get tickets for the balcony, and having negotiated a very lengthy queue of punters all excited to get into the venue we took our seats for an evening of foot stomping blues soaked rock.
Support came from the Ben Matthews Band (8); a pleasing four piece from Joplin, Missouri who play crazy bluegrass and delta blues. If memory serves they opened for ZZ at Hammersmith and were excellent. The four members Ben Miller, Scott Leeper, Rachel Ammons, and Smilin' Bob Lewis delivered a great warm up for the sold out crowd with their engaging stage style, multiple instrument changes and enthusiasm which was rewarded with a warm ovation from the packed audience.
When the adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” was coined, I’m sure that ZZ Top (10) were in the author’s mind. A set list that comprised all the same tracks as the previous two shows, albeit in a slightly different order, a stage set so simply that there isn’t even a pedal in sight enhanced by some very clever and subtle lighting and three dudes who just do what they do.
What they do is play quality blues in a style that appeals to a huge range of people. Opener Got Me Under Pressure segued into the first of four tracks from the mighty Eliminator, the evergreen Gimme All Your Lovin’ and the band were already displaying their genuine enjoyment with the lanky frame of Billy Gibbons occupying front and centre alongside Dusty Hill, who spent a number of tracks on his keyboard with bass. Of course, Dusty is recovering from his damaged shoulder and the keyboard allowed him to keep the weight of his bass off his shoulder for part of the evening. However, the interaction between Hill and the Rev Willie G is a joy to behold as they cruised through a set that seemed to absolutely speed by.
Mid-set saw the usual covers, Hendrix’s Foxy Lady and Robert Petway’s Catfish Blues allow the Rev open up with his fluid and effortless guitar playing whilst at the back Frank Beard held a steady beat; the man is a rock holding the band together with his solid and unassuming drumming. The run delivered a quadruple whammy; Cheap Sunglasses, Chatreuse, Sharp Dressed Man and main closer Legs before the band headed off for a deserved wipe down. Back on for the obligatory and always excellent La Grange followed by a stunning Tush but tonight it wasn’t over then a second encore of Sixteen Tons ( a Tennessee Ernie Ford cover - Ed) and Elvis’s Jailhouse Rock brought 90 minutes of sheer brilliance to an end. A third view in four years and each one brought something different despite the similarity in the set. Always cool, always worth seeing.