The vibes at the Marquee tonight are phenomenal as this massive venue is practically at capacity. It’s difficult to gauge the average age of the audience here – you’ve got people in their teens and kids accompanied by their parents, perhaps even grandparents. There are senior citizens who look like they’ve resurrected their ZZ t-shirts just for tonight. It’s ZZ Top’s first Irish show in 25 years, and the trio has chosen Cork as their pit stop.
Samples of hip-hop and poorly-mixed pop are being filtered through the PA, prompting a few to question if they are at the right show. Suddenly the music is pulled, the house lights go down and the screen lights up with a caption reading “Rated Z”. Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard take the stage. Although Beard is ironically without facial hair, it’s a bearded invasion; Gibbons and Hill arrive in their familiar attire of sunglasses, signature chest-length beards, and top hats – completing the look is a glittery red rose-print jacket. From a distance, all one can really make out is the beard, sunglasses and sparkling red hue.
Without saying a word they kick off the proceedings with ‘Got Me Under Pressure’ from their multi-platinum 1983 album Eliminator. They power on through and hit straight into ‘Gimme All Your Loving’. Yes, the lyric to the chorus are “Gimme all your lovin’, all your hugs and kisses too”, and it is amazing.
ZZ are known for their often kitsch and humorous lyrics, and there’s no denying how endearing and catchy they can be. They finally take a break to address the crowd, allowing the personality behind such gems as the aforementioned track to shine through. These guys appear completely carefree, and it seems they still love to play. “Four decades, same three guys, same three chords”, guitarist Billy Gibbons shouts out as he expresses how excited they are to be back on Irish soil. ZZ are a super tight unit, and it’s pretty inspiring to hear that the three of them have been in it together for this long.
‘I Gots to Get Paid’ from their latest and 15th studio album La Futura follows. As Gibbons put it: it’s the same three guys, the same three chords. It does sound remarkably like their older hits; it’s not something that’s moving the group in a new and innovative direction but maybe that’s OK. They do what they do exceptionally well. The visuals that accompany the latest single are flickering images of curvy ladies in hot pants and tiny crop tops. Not entirely tasteful but not worth reading into, especially when, shortly after, they play a total blinder with their cover of the Jimi Hendrix Experience’s ‘Foxy Lady’ that runs into ‘Sharp Dressed Man’. These two tracks send the audience into a tizzy of delight, there’s a bearded middle-aged man in the front row who’s just whipped off his top and is waving it in the air in sheer euphoria. Hundreds of people are roaring along to the chorus of the well know 80s hit: “Every girl crazy ‘bout a sharp dressed man”. It’s the apex of the show so far. A guitar change follows and their tech hands them their notorious foam guitars for ‘Legs’. Synchronised solos and even (slightly) choreographed dance moves leave an elated crowd demanding more as the exit stage left at the close of the track.
They reemerge and this encore prompts a costume change. Blue rose print glittery jackets adorn them now, not far from something you might expect to see in Liberace’s wardrobe but they pull it off. They launch into ‘Tube Snake Boogie’ on this track Frank Beard gives it loads, this man must be in his late 60s at this stage, but that doesn’t stop him from setting into a bit of double kick-pedal action at his kit now and then. Dusty Hill tries to outdo Beard on the bass and really nails it, shredding those walking bass lines like it’s something he could do in sleep at this stage. They burst into a cover of BB Kings ‘Sloppy Drunk’ and Gibbons guitar tech comes out and lights a cigar for him as Hill takes the vocal lead. As they attempt to leave it on ‘Tush’ their relentless audience isn’t having any of it. ZZ emerge once again for a final encore and kick into a cover of Presley’s ‘Jailhouse Rock’.
A lot of the tracks heard tonight are the kind of numbers you might find on compilations entitled Dad Rocks gathering dust in the corner of Tesco after Father’s Day, but there is nothing Dad Rock-ish about ZZ Top. They’re not past it and there isn’t a hint of cynicism or resentment in their stage presence. They are the real deal, rock legends who know how to write a hit and still know how put on a show. Most importantly, there isn’t a suggestion of grandiosity about them. Despite the legacy that precedes them, there’s a sense that we could just be watching them at their local bar in Houston, Texas. If their local could fit their legions of Irish fans, that is. ZZ Top’s modest stage set up consists of three big screens and a few lights and certainly reflects a confidence in their own sound; there are no smoke screens here just straight up tight musicianship. The Texan trio are still very much on top of their game.