ZZ Top• June 15, 2022• Red Butte Garden Amphitheater
Reviewed and Photographed by Kevin Rolfe
ZZ Top has been coming to Utah since the 70s. They used to call The Salt Palace home whenever they would come to Salt Lake City. In recent years, Red Butte Garden Amphitheater is the stopping place for the legendary Blues Rock band. ZZ Top helped bring live music back to Red Butte last summer just weeks following the passing of original bassist, Dusty Hill. Less than a year later, ZZ Top made their return with the same lineup, including new bassist and former guitar tech to Hill, Elwood Francis. The moment the band walked on stage, the generally casual garden attendees, jumped to their feet, ready to rock.
ZZ Top opened the show with “Got Me Under Pressure” from their 1983 hugely successful album, Eliminator. People were moving and pumping their fists as if it was the middle of the set. This was the perfect song to start things off. I thought the lengthy guitar solo helped get everyone settled in and ready for a high-voltage show.
I love seeing people who embraced this band from the early days get as excited as some of the newer and perhaps younger fans. The staging was simple but very cool looking. The band was surrounded by a backdrop of stacked light blue and orange Magnitone Amps. The aesthetic of the staging sent a very clear message that this show was meant to be loud, and full throttle. The band flew through their sixteen song set in a flash.
Growing up in the 80s and MTV (with music videos) era, I definitely got excited when one of their classic MTV generation songs would start. The first of those was “Gimme All Your Lovin'”. Drummer Frank Beard played that familiar beat and the crowd cheered. They immediately knew what song was being played. I was standing near the stage at the time and a security guard who was backstage rushed to the front and exclaimed, “This is my favorite song!”. I was impressed by the way he was able to get into the song while still doing his job well.
Lead man, Billy Gibbons didn’t spend too much time chatting with the crowd. He did have to stop in his tracks a time or two due to the positive reaction of the crowd. One time he stated, “Guess we’re having a good time now!”. Which only fired the audience up even more. I loved ZZ Top’s rendition of “Sixteen Tons”. I thought the band mixed in songs for their fans like me, from the 80s, with songs for their fans prior to their 80s explosion. Songs like, “Waiting for the Bus”, and “Just Got Paid” seemed to excite the fans that have been with ZZ Top from the beginning.
ZZ Top played “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” back to back before leaving the stage. I thought this was the most exciting moment of the night. The audience was really moving at this point. I saw silver foxes, I saw kids, I saw yuppies all in unison just letting loose for these two mega hits. I ended up standing next to a man in a wheelchair. He was not going to let whatever was confining him to that chair keep him from really going for it. He was singing, he was pumping his fist, and he was moving all over that wheelchair.
The band left, but the crowd did not stop. Now people like to debate if encores are really necessary. We know they’re coming out. They still have big songs left to sing. It’s a debate that will go on until bands stop doing it I suppose. But when ZZ Top returned to the stage, and the audience roared their approval, no one seems to care what side of the debate they were on. The band was back on stage and everyone was excited.
Gibbons said, “Let’s play one of our very first album”. They broke into “Brown Sugar” which is on the album titled ZZ Top’s First Album. They followed “Brown Sugar” with “Tube Snake Boogie”. Gibbons told the crowd the band needed help and asked if everyone would sing along. Of course, they obliged and Red Butte Gardens boogied with ZZ Top.
There was no surprise to what was going to close the show. But the excitement was the same. Billy Gibbons said that they “were going to do that thing. I think y’all know that thing.” The crowd knew. And right then he started playing the riff from “La Grange”. It’s hard not to get into that song. Which would explain why all of Red Butte Gardens was so into the song. They used every last bit of energy they had. So they thought. The song came to a halt. Gibbons looked out into the cheering crowd and licked his fingers. Then he put his hand to his ear to listen to the crowd. As the audience reached their peak volume, ZZ Top started up again and played the song out.
There’s something special about seeing a band this legendary with this much history, and with this much of a footprint on American Rock Music. The show flew by, and some may have wanted a show longer than the crisp 75 minutes. But I heard all the songs I had hoped to, and I thought the band sounded fantastic. I look forward to their next visit to Utah.