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ZZ Top Brought their “Raw Whisky Tour” to Saint Louis Thursday

ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

 

–by Sean Derrick

 

That little Ol’ band from Texas, ZZ Top, made their first official stop in Saint Louis Thursday since the unfortunate death of founding bassist Dusty Hill last year. They did play at the Washington Fair in August of last year just after Hill’s passing, but that was an hour away and an already scheduled appearance. Thursday was the first for Saint Louis as a post-Dusty show from the start.

ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

The band relied heavily on their older catalogue, with only one song after 1990’s Recycler album, 2012’s “I Gotsta Get Paid”. Everything else was from 1983 or earlier.

They came out to the rockin’ “Got Me Under Pressure” from 1983’s mega hit album Eliminator. With only one song to shoot the band from the soundboard I was put under pressure to get enough shots for this review. Challenge accepted.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

From the moment the lights went down the audience was itching to see how Hill’s replacement would fare (Including me). The remaining members of guitarist/vocalist Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard said Hill told them before he died that the show must go on. In stepped Elwood Francis, Gibbons’ longtime guitar tech to fill the void.

Elwood Francis of ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

The addition paid off internally for the band as they saw it as a perfect fit. Francis even grew a beard, quickly (yep, that’s his real hair), and seemed to have rejuvenated Gibbons and Beard. Beard, who at times at past shows has been reportedly viewed as “going through the motions” did seem more active than past shows. Gibbons was his usual joking self with the crowd and seemed to bring in a new dimension to his solos.

Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

Francis set his own style, while trying to emulate Hill’s. Sure, he did the occasional “sway” with Gibbons or the “knee wobble”, much to the roar of the crowd, but largely the two stayed away from the motioned choreography that was a trademark for the band for much of their 50 plus years.

ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

Francis did spins on one leg and slapped the neck of his bass at times, showing off his ability as not just a fill in. The big difference, however, comes from the strumming style. Whereas Francis uses a pick, emitting a sharper tone with each note, Hill used his fingers, all of them, usually in rapid succession when needed to provide a fill during Gibbon’s runs. It did provide a fuller sound, something that (no disrespect to Francis at all) cannot be duplicated on bass using a pick. So that was the main difference in the sound of the show. Unless Francis adapts that fingered approach, which is not easy to do, the sound will be changed.

ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

But maybe that is what they want. Francis is a new member, he is not Dusty Hill, nor is he trying to be, out of respect for Hill. For fans: if you understand that simple concept it is much easier to enjoy the show than to try to judge Francis because he “doesn’t sound like Dusty”. No one really can.

Frank Beard of ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

It is easier to watch the band feel lively again even while performing the same songs they have been playing for decades. Songs like “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Just Got Paid” sounded new because of the differing techniques. Others, like “My Head’s in Mississippi” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” were not really noticeable.

ZZ Top performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

Overall, it was a good show, lots of classic ZZ Top songs for a feel-good night, even if the crowd was smaller than when they usually play next door at Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre. Hopefully more fans will give this version of ZZ Top a chance, they still know how to rock.

Goodbye June performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

Nashville based Goodbye June opened the show with a 45-minute bluesy hard rock performance that involved great riffs and catchy rhythms, much in a style reminiscent of early AC/DC, especially on tracks “Three Chords” and “See Where the Night Goes”. They seemed a perfect fit to open for ZZ Top.

Goodbye June performing at Saint Louis Music Park Thursday. Photo by Sean Derrick/Thyrd Eye Photography.

Be sure to check out the rest of the photo gallery below the setlist.

ZZ Top Setlist

Got Me Under Pressure

I Thank You

Waitin’ for the Bus

Jesus Just Left Chicago

Gimme All Your Lovin’

PearlNecklace

I’m bad, I’m Nationwide

I Gotsta Get Paid

My Head’s in Mississippi

Sixteen Tons

Just Got Paid

Sharp Dressed man

Legs

Encore

Brown Sugar

Tube Snake Boogie

La Grange

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