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ZZ Top @ The Electric Factory with the Ben Miller Band.

March 16, 2015

IMG_9390Text and images by Lee Miller.

ZZ Top re-emerged into commercial and critical relevance in 2012 with their Rick Rubin produced La Futura album. It was their first album in 9 years and their first top 10 album in America since 1990. Perhaps most importantly, it re-established them as a band still putting out new and interesting material rather than a veteran band simply touring on the backs of nostalgia.

It is somewhat unbelievable. ZZ Top is rocking with the same lineup that laid down their first album (the appropriately named ZZ Top’s First Album from 1971). Unlike so many bands, it isn’t a reunion. They’ve never gone anywhere. They are survivors.

Indeed, this tour was originally rolling through America last year but was postponed when bassist Dusty Hill was injured in a fall mid-tour. (Dusty Hill. You would have to say that’s the most appropriate possible name for someone in this band if not for Frank Beard, the drummer famous for being the member of ZZ Top with the least facial hair).

Originally this tour was was a split bill with rock legend Jeff Beck but wasn’t scheduled to stop in Philadelphia. The rebooted tour features 19 dates without Jeff Beck, with the guitarist joining up with the band for the last six dates in the south.

Joining ZZ Top for the first leg of the tour is fellow three-man unit the Ben Miller Band, who where making their very first appearance in Philadelphia. Having attended art school in Philly, Miller talked on stage about how important the show was for him.

The band fuses rock and blue grass and comes up with a rustic, yet modern, sound. Multi-instrumentalists are always fascinating to see live and all three of the members fit that bill. Miller played guitar, banjo and harmonica while handling lead vocals. Doug Dicharry handled drums and also played the spoons, washboard and trombone. Rounding out the trio was Scott Leeper who mainly played a single string bass made out of a sink, but also played the drums for a song.

They represented a 2015 take on rugged retro aesthetics, a fantastic pairing for ZZ Top’s famous 80s interpretation.

Although, as mentioned, ZZ Top has moved forward creatively. While they play heavy homage to their 80s fame, the show was by no means a throw-back night. Their current look is sleek and modern, and fits perfectly with their famous beards.

This is a band that made their mark by taking over MTV with their carefully created image back in the day. If you haven’t seen ZZ Top in a while, it might be shocking to see that the gaudy jackets and giant hats are gone. Their most recent music video (“I Gotsta Get Paid”) was a brilliant summation of their new aesthetic, even featuring a new ’33 Ford hot-rod to replace their legendary Eliminator that dominated the band’s imagery for years.

ZZ Top lead off with “Got Me Under Pressure” and cruised through 15 songs relatively quickly, mixing in a little bit from all of their eras including three songs from La Futura. They also threw in covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.”

Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill worked the stage, occasionally going into their famous synchronized motions to the audience’s delight. Many of their songs are jukebox sing-along classics, so of course the crowd was prompted to sing parts of various songs.

After “Legs,” there was a very brief pause that served as the night’s scripted encore, returning to the stage with “La Grange.” They closed the night with a homage to their cheesy 80s glory days, sporting sequined jackets and summoning their fur covered guitars from off stage to send everyone home with “Tush.”

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