Perhaps nowhere else is hard rock more perfectly defined than with ZZ Top, whose songs about cars and women epitomize generic, catchy hard rock.
They have the fans, the money, the experience and the technology. But a carnival of lights and noise Saturday night didn't make up for a sad absence of creative soul. What their show lacked in soul, ZZ Top tried to make up for with technological wowing and sexual showwomanship.On the other hand, the talented openers, the Ian Moore Band, looked at the crowd straight in the eye, radiated with musical passion and confidence and sang a blend that increasingly blurred modern lines between country, blues, jazz and rock. Austin-style boogie played by one piano virtuoso and two great guitarists introduced the audience to the heartful, funky sound of Ian Moore.
If ZZ Top had followed their own advice of sticking to the basics, they would have simply delivered their hard, addictive rock Saturday night to a huge, excited crowd of longtime fans.
Instead, ZZ Top upstaged themselves with pornographic dancers.
There were what appeared to be naked women behind lit screens dancing erotically with hammers and drums. The women later kissed each other to the beat of "Breakaway." And this was just the third song of the concert. Later, the women came out from behind the screens and danced while nearly naked on a raised platform that swung back and forth over the performing band.
The eye-shocking concert started in the dark. When all lights went to black, a lone voice boomed, "Time Is Up." A kaleidoscope of rainbow lights churned across the cover-curtain, which read: "Club Z: Tone, Taste, Tenacity." (Two out of three ain't bad.)
The curtain dropped to reveal ZZ Top's radio glory land. The stage dressing seemed inspired by the soulless spirit of the Las Vegas strip, more than the old-fashioned radio stations that the band names as the tour's theme. Each enormous stage piece was metallic or aglow. Sparks flew. Draped strings of neon glowed green and red. Gargantuan radio tower replicas beamed light like radio waves. Electrical gauges blitzed the eye of the crowd with zaps of colored electricity. Millions of dollars worth of colored lights beamed, and speakers, each the size of small houses, towered overhead.
Dusty Hill and Billy Gibbons stood on high platforms far apart, dressed in black, with baseball caps, sunglasses and long, frazzly beards, playing their guitars with Frank Beard drumming in the middle. They didn't dance. They stood still. They exacted vibrant perfection from their guitars but left all entertainment efforts to the ladies and the lights.
ZZ Top's die-hard fans chanted with the band on the old-time favorite song "Cheap Sunglasses." They cheered madly when a laser trick turned the entire arena audience into a dizzying blur of green lights. Some longtime fans dressed like ZZ and the girls of their MTV videos. Some wore fringed bras and short shorts. There were male fans in long leopard coats and full-grown ZZ beards. They knew the words to all the songs.
Twinkling stars engaged the kaleidoscoped crowd on the few slow songs, while Gibbons and Hill moved across the stage on a conveyer belt, radio signals flashing out from the towers. It was as stunning, as expensive and as empty as Gotham City.