On paper this tour seemed like an odd pairing: Jeff Beck, an English guitarist whose instrumental odysseys tap into blues, prog-rock, metal and jazz, and ZZ Top, a power trio that issues salvos of grimy blues, Texas-boogie style.
But onstage they seemed more compatible. Both are storied acts in the world we now refer to as classic rock, and both have deep roots in the blues. Saturday night they nearly filled Starlight Theatre, drawing a crowd of more than 7,000 that showed up to pay its respects, feverishly. It was loud and engaged all night.
Beck opened with a 65-minute set that showcased his virtuoso band: Jonathan Joseph on drums; Nicolas Meier on guitar; and Rhonda Smith on bass. Half of the songs on the set list were instrumentals, including “Yemen,” a song with heavy Middle Eastern accents that Meier wrote, “You Know You Know,” which included a dazzling solo by Smith, and Beck’s transcendent take on the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life.”
He has an uncommon way of extracting a wealth of sounds and tones from his guitar and a signature way of executing leads that are not too long, self-indulgent or the slightest bit cliche.
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For the rest of the set, he enlisted vocalist Jimmy Hall, a Southerner whose voice is drenched in Muscle Shoals soul.
The first of those was “Morning Dew,” a track from Beck’s “Truth” album, released in 1968 that featured Rod Stewart on vocals. Hall filled that role capably as he did on others, including a histrionic performance of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come,” a deep-funk rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” and then a steamy cover of Hambone Willie Newbern’s blues classic “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” the perfect lead-in to what was to follow.
After a brief intermission, ZZ Top took the stage, which was equipped minimally: two square video screens that flanked drummer Frank Beard and a larger, horizontal one behind him. They would beam a variety of visuals, including several of the band’s classic videos.
The music was no-frills, too. In 65-minutes, they stormed through 14 songs. Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill whipped up a few loud ovations by engaging in some of their low-key choreography. Otherwise, they let their classic blend of rock and blues do the talking.
The set list included two covers: Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” and Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” Hill took lead vocals on that one. Before the song, Gibbons reminded the crowd that the band had been doing this for more than 40 years now: “Same three guys, same three chords.”
Well, not exactly. There is some refreshing diversity in their songs, which was most evident at the end of the set. It jumped from “Cheap Sunglasses” to “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs,” two of their poppier tunes.
For the encore, they brought out Beck to add even more guitar artistry to two of their oldest and best-known songs, “La Grange” and “Tush,” the closer.
During both songs, the Texas trio looked pleased to have Beck’s accompaniment, Beck looked right at home among them, and this odd pairing made complete sense.
Got Me Under Pressure; Waitin’ for the Bus; Jesus Just Left Chicago; Gimme All Your Lovin’; I Gotsa Get Paid; Foxy Lady; Catfish Blues; My Head’s in Mississippi; Cheap Sunglasses; Sharp Dressed Man; Legs. Encore: La Grange/Sloppy Drunk; Tush.