ZZ Top performs live at Bonnaroo 2013

Texas blues-rock legends ZZ Top celebrated their 44th (?!) year as a band with a 90-minute, career-spanning set at Bonnaroo 2013. The trio included tracks ranging from their 1971 debut to last year’s Rick Rubin-produced La Futura, playing all the major MTV staples (“Legs,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Gimme All Your Lovin'”), early blues tracks (“La Grange,” “Certified Blues”) and covers (Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady.”) Despite their inclusion in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, to many, they’re just “those guys with beards who made a few videos in the 80s.” To familiarize (or re-famiiarize) yourself with the iconic band, here are 10 reasons why their set was one of Friday’s best.

1. Their Suits Rival Kanye West and Lady Gaga’s Wardrobe
Guitarist Billy Gibbons and bassist Dusty Hill’s symmetrical appearance have caused countless crowd variants of, “So wait, they’re brothers, right?” (They’re not.) Besides the obvious perfection that is their iconic beards, the duo’s extravagant, Mariachi-inspired suits is equal parts regional pride and show business kitsch. See above for Exhibit A.  

2. Drummer Frank Beard’s Kit Is the Size of a Small Country
Seriously. Look at this. There are more parts on Beard’s drum kit than fans at some Bonnaroo acts. The 25+-piece set includes 10 cymbals, two bass drums with skulls on them and, for some shows (sadly not this one), a gong. A gong. Do you know who uses gongs besides servants for kings in movies? Scary ass Texans who are happy to split your skull in two and use it as a coaster for their Shiner Bock.

3. They Wrote a Song Based on a ’90s Houston Crack-Rap Track
“I Gotsta Get Paid,” the lead single from La Futura, is a reworked cover of “25 Lighters” by Texas rappers DJ DMD, Lil Keke and MC Fat Pat. “I became fixated with this ‘hypnotic chronicle of the toil of a ghetto hustler’,” Gibbons has said, “and I was determined to use it as the basis for something ZZ Top could record.” It’s doubtful many in the Bonnaroo audience spotted the inspiration, but it’s a testament to the group’s fearlessness.

4. They Brought Texas Pride to Tennessee
While McCartney was dragging out the Tennessee flag at the end of his set an hour earlier, some in the crowd were quick to show their Texas pride. One man waved a giant Texas flag (because why would anyone behind you want to see the show?), while numerous Stetsons and cowboy hats could be seen throughout the crowd. More than one “Yee Haw” was shouted to both the delight and chagrin of others.

5. Their Visuals Are Surreally Perfect
A rattlesnake slithering through sagebrush. An interminable, empty Texas highway. An isolated oil rig pumping furiously. ZZ Top’s visuals are fiercely Texas; snapshots of an expansive, lonely place. Oh, and they played the original 1983 video for “Legs,” the tale of a girl living in a town solely populated by assh-les while ZZ Top act as leering voyeurs.

6. Their Extended Guitar Jams Are Still the Blues-Rock Standard
The studio version of “La Grange,” their 1973 song off the essential Tres Hombres, is under four minutes, but at Bonnaroo, the trio stretched it out to 12, riding a classic blues-groove made famous by Slim Harpo while augmenting it with dirty guitar and bass solos.

7. They Put Their Own Style on Classic Rock Songs
Paul McCartney teased Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” during his headlining set earlier that night, but ZZ Top performed the full song—a longtime concert staple—with a renewed vigor and fury Friday night. A middle-aged man behind me told his friend, “Man, I used to clean up with this song.” I refrained from asking him to elaborate. 
8. Their Fanbase Had the Widest Age Range
You could make an argument for McCartney, but walking around the tent, children as young as four danced with AARP members, while middle-aged, classic rock fans nodded alongside Gen Xers nostalgic for the band’s MTV staples.

9. They’re Still Not Afraid to Rock White Fur Guitars
This. Forever.

10. Their Style Hasn’t Changed in 40 Years and That’s Okay
ZZ Top’s first album, appropriately titled ZZ Top’s First Album, was released in 1971, and while they briefly embraced drum machines and synths in the mid-80s, their rootsy love of boogie woogie, hard rock and blues have been the cornerstones of their sound for more than 40 years. There’s a reason why their stage was one of the few at capacity. 

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