By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
"That little ol' band from Texas" is celebrating its 30th -- 30th! -- anniversary this year, with its original lineup -- and, to be sure, its beards -- intact. Of course, ZZ Top -- Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard and Dusty Hill -- has gone through several musical incarnations in that time. Early on, the Top was a blues/boogie band, cranking out high-octane hits like "La Grange," "Just Got Paid" and "Tush."
When that approach reached a creative dead end, the group disappeared, switched labels and re-emerged with an approach that was still steeped in the blues but was also edgier and techno-savvy. Songs like "Cheap Sunglasses," "Pearl Necklace" and a spacey cover of Sam and Dave's "I Thank You" were the impressive results. Suddenly armed with themes of fast cars and faster women, the Top perfected its approach on 1983's Eliminator, which brought forth "Sharp Dressed Man," "Gimme All Your Lovin'" and "Legs." As significant as the music may have been, it was the group's sexy, stylish videos that turned them into true superstars. And though the clips may have exploited women à la Robert Palmer, they did it with a self-deprecating sense of humor -- dig those fuzzy guitars! -- that somehow made it OK.
Of course, all good things must come to an end, and by the dawn of the '90s, the Top was tapped out again. Recycler may be the most honest and appropriate album title in rock & roll history. The group switched labels again and took things down a notch, wisely reverting to its blues roots for recent albums Rhythmeen and the newly released XXX (RCA). Recalling the m.o. of the group's 1975 smash Fandango, some of XXX was recorded in the studio; the rest is live.
After a couple years of downsized tours, the group is thinking big once again and will perform within the expansive confines of Kiel Center. Lynyrd Skynyrd -- a band that's nearly as long-lived as the Top but didn't escape the '70s nearly so unscathed -- will open the show.