Concert Review: ZZ Top at Red Butte

It seems like there’s almost too much to do in Salt Lake.

For example, on Thursday night you could have gone to see The Roots play the final Twilight Concert Series concert of the year—or maybe ever. You could have cheered on the Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium—after all, social media tells me that football season has started again. 

Or, you could have done what I did, and joined the sold-out crowd at Red Butte for ZZ Top.

I’m sure Jimmy Fallon’s house band was great. And I certainly hope the sportsball was all that all the rabid red-wearing sportsball fans hoped it would be. But I’m telling you, man, you should have been at Red Butte.

Yes, it’s gimmicky. Yes, it’s three old dudes. Yes, it’s music your parents listened to. And yes, ZZ Top still rocks. Maybe more now than ever. They’ve grown into their hokeyness, somehow. And maybe it can just be chalked up to nostalgia—but just seeing them onstage brought a smile to my face.

Of course they’re still bearded, and they still wear matching outfits and though I’m sure the dance moves are all choreographed, it feels like more a symbiotic relationship to me. Dusty Hill moves right, Billy Gibbons moves right. Billy tilts forward, Dusty tilts forward. Can these two live without each other? The world may never know.

And really, it makes sense—as they reminded the crowd last night, “We’ve been coming to you for almost five decades,” said Gibbons, “Same three guys,” and then a pause. “Same three chords.” And, right there you have the strength of ZZ Top.

Three chords is all you need for a good brand, if you’re good—and they still are. And it’s a hell of a show. Lights. The aforementioned choreography. Grizzled voices that seem to have only gotten better with age. Shredding guitars. More importantly, they’re still having a whole lot of fun.

And their catalog speaks for itself. From “Legs” (for which they brought out the infamous furry guitars from the video), “Give Me All Your Lovin’” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” these are songs you not only know, but within a few bars, know it’s ZZ Top. There is power in those three chords. 

Even during a short country music interlude in their setlist, ZZ Top’s Texas roots showed through. Tennessee Ernie Ford probably never anticipated a guitar-and-bass-heavy rendition of his “Sixteen Tons,” but it worked. And then, they brought out a steel guitar and steel guitarist (and guitar tech) Elwood Francis (wearing what appeared to be prison pants, for what it’s worth) for Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally.” Not only did it honor Owens, but managed to stay authentic to ZZ Top, too. Add in a little “Catfish Blues,” and in three songs, the band provided a primer to the very foundation of their sound.

And, now dear readers, we get to the encore. You know I’m on record as being anti-encore. And boy, did ZZ Top make us wait for it. However, when they came back on stage, it was with a wardrobe change—so that’s borderline excusable. New matching jackets! This time with sequins. And “La Grange” and “Tush”—two early favorites from the band.

They exited and returned for a second encore—this time tackling Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.” Another tip o’the hat to their predecessors.

I see no reasons to mince words here (why start now, am I right?): I’m going to go ahead and call it. This was the best Red Butte show of the season.

I guess you could say ZZ Top’s still got legs. 

Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy
Christie Marcy is a former managing editor at Salt Lake magazine. Though she writes about everything, she has a particular interest in arts and culture in Utah. In the summer months, you will find her at any given outdoor concert on any given night. In the winter, you will find her wishing for summer. Follow her on social media at @whynotboth.

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