ZZ Top and Cheap Trick, Sunday night at Starlight (photos, setlist)
with Cheap Trick and Marquise Knox
Sunday, September 1
The American power trio in arguably its most perfect form, ZZ Top has been doing its Texas roadhouse blues-rock thing for half a century now. Somehow, this little old band from the Lone Star State became a massive pop sensation in the 1980s, with a string of hits that were well represented at Starlight Theatre on Sunday night.
ZZ Top sounded large and in charge, and the sold-out crowd responded to every song as though it was bigger than the last. The hits from Eliminator—“Gimme All Your Lovin’,” Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs”—were most rapturously received, but even the old-school numbers like “Just Got Paid” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago” were greeted with hoots of approval.
Sure: maybe the vocals could’ve been a little louder, with Billy Gibbons’ growl almost a mutter by the time it came out of the speakers. And maybe the band was playing some of those more uptempo numbers about half a step slower than the recorded versions. But the chops were there, especially on the bluesier numbers like “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” and while Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill’s choreographed struts might be a little slower than in the band’s heyday, it’s still an electrifyingly cool vibe.
ZZ Top setlist
Got Me Under Pressure
I Thank You (Sam & Dave cover)
Waitin’ for the Bus
Jesus Just Left Chicago
Gimme All Your Lovin’
I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide
Just Got Paid
My Head’s in Mississippi
Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis cover)
Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers
I Gotsta Get Paid
Sharp Dressed Man
Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley cover)
As for Cheap Trick: this might be the best set I’ve ever seen from the Rockford legends. Singer Robin Zander sounded like he’s been drinking a gallon of honey a week. Granted, he didn’t push those vocal cords to the absolute limits—by which I mean we didn’t hear “The Flame”—but he sounded fully in his prime on “I Want You To Want Me” and “Downed.” As did the band. Guitarist Rick Nielsen seemed especially exuberant, flinging literal handfuls of guitar picks into the crowd.
At the Sprint Center last summer, Cheap Trick brought out the Melvins to guest on “Surrender,” and Sunday’s show saw KC’s own Radkey come out to join the band on that classic single, with guitarist Dee even sticking around for a little bit of “Auf Wiedersehen” after. It was a hell of a set, and a tough act to follow.
Cheap Trick setlist
Long Time Coming
Baby Loves to Rock
Ain’t That a Shame (Fats Domino cover)
Stop This Game
I’m Waiting for the Man (The Velvet Underground cover)
I Want You to Want Me
Surrender (with Radkey)
St. Louis blues musician Marquise Knox hit the stage ahead of Cheap Trick for a half-hour set. Knox channels the ghost of Muddy Waters in his music and performance—he closed the set by setting his guitar aside and boogieing across the stage during Rufus Thomas’ “Walkin’ the Dog”; it killed—and I heard more than a few folks asking who he was after the set.
Over at the Applause Club in the VIP section, KC rock and rollers the Philistines played to a crowd that appeared mostly to already be friends and fans of the band. I spotted lots of familiar faces, but it was cool to see the folks in the security line nodding along as the Philistines played a set that managed to include their own “Twitch of the Death Nerve” and the Monkees’ “Porpoise Song.”