For 40 years: same three guys, same three chords. Such is how Billy Gibbons distilled the essence of ZZ Top in 2012.
It may all be the same, essentially, but it’s enough to keep fans interested and buying tickets to shows to hear the band’s inimitable take on the blues, one that mixes boogie, metal and classic white blues. Tuesday night, more than 2,000 showed up to watch Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard fill the Midland theater with nearly 80 minutes of such music, some of it indeed 40 years old.
They opened with their version of Sam and Dave’s “I Thank You,” then went back to 1973 and the “Tres Hombres” album: the gritty “Waitin’ for the Bus’ and the slow-moving but soulful “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” They would revisit that classic album again, setting the room ablaze with “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers,” then, in the encore, “La Grange.”
ZZ Top is touring off a new album, “La Futura,” co-produced by career resurrector Rick Rubin and released in mid-September, and the two songs pulled of that one proved Gibbons’ point. “I Gotsta Get Paid” is a grimy, gritty Texas blues revision of “25 Lighters,” a late-’90s song by Houston rap trio; and “Chartreuse” rides a boogie-groove that resembles vintage ZZ, especially “Tush.” Both fit in seamelessly with the rest of the setlist, which bounced about the band’s catalog, which now comprises 15 albums.
The state was set with two smaller video screens that flanked a larger one, which broadcast a variety of images and graphics. During “Vincent Price Blues,” the beloved horror-flick actor was displayed in black-and-white portrait and film footage. The show moved along at a brisk pace: not much chit-chat but plenty of entertainment. Gibbons and Hill reprised some of the choreography they’ve become known for -- including that knee-knocking dance move they do in unison. Unlike some bands as longstanding as theirs, ZZ has managed to look and sound as timeless as the blues itself.
This crowd seemed as familiar and fond of songs like “Heard It on the X” and “My Head’s in Mississippi” as anything else on the setlist, but the best-known songs got the biggest ovation and drew nearly the entire floor out of its seats and into the grooves.
“Gimme All Your Lovin’” was the first of those; later, the one-two punch of “Sharp Dressed Man” and the infernal “Legs” ended the first set with a joyous fury. They returned quickly for a three-song encore, starting with “Tube Snake Boogie” and ending with the song that introduced many in the room to this band and its appealing mix of humor, levity, sex and serious hard rock/blues : “Tush,” now 37 years old.
Gibbons is right: Not much about this band has changed over the decades; things have stayed pretty much the same. But there’s nothing wrong with that if it means you’re staying consistent with high standards.
Setlist: I Thank You; Waitin’ for the Bus; Jesus Just Left Chicago; Pincushion; Heard it On The X; I Gotsta Get Paid; Gimme All Your Lovin’; Vincent Price Blues; My Head’s in Mississippi; Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers; Chartreuse; Stages; Sharp-Dressed Man; Legs. Encore: Tube Snake Boogie; La Grange / Sloppy Drunk; Tush..