It’s been a few years (at least) since I’ve stuck out as one of the youngest people in the crowd (quite a feat when you’re pushing 40) but ZZ Top’s been playing for Minnesotans much longer than that.
“We’ve been coming around with you folks for five decades. Same three guys up here,” guitarist Billy Gibbons said of himself, bassist Dusty Hill (beard) and drummer Frank Beard (sans beard, because life is amazing). The sold-out stands at Mystic Lake Casino Friday night hooted and made clear—by either their enthusiasm, age-revealing concert tees, graying beards, or un-ironic mom jeans—that this wasn’t their first rodeo with ZZ Top.
“I couldn’t wait to call my sweetheart and say ‘Sweetheart, we’re at the casino!’” Gibbons said, his old-timey lingo an instant charmer. “But I was standing under the speaker at the bingo parlor and all she could hear was ‘B-15!’ Anyway, nice place you’ve got here.”
The trio launched into their set with “Got Me Under Pressure,” “Waitin’ For The Bus,” and “Jesus Left Chicago,” with each singer showing less wear and tear in his voice than much younger classic rock bands. (Looking at you, Def Leppard and G N' R.) Then “Gimme All Your Lovin’” (a clever sex joke I only recently got), which would be the last of their bigger hits until the encore.
As the band performed in front of a wall of pink and green amp stacks, there were a few times their cool, subdued stage presence caused my eyes to wander to the second star of the show: the fans. One woman dancing seductively in front of us was eventually asked to leave after bum-rushing the stage (the first of two such incidents). The lady next to me handed me a piece of paper with her number on it and asked me to text her some pictures of the show because of her “damn flip phone.” I obliged and, anticipating my five minutes of gambling later, asked her if she had a cigarette. She pulled out the longest one I have ever seen. I tucked it behind my ear, because hey, this was that kind of show.
“Now’s the time for ZZ Top to get weird—I know what else is new,” Gibbons joked. Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady” kicked off a set of mostly covers that included country numbers “Sixteen Tons” and Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally.” For the latter, Gibbons invited a stage hand to guest on steel guitar, saying, “He plays it like nobody’s business. Come on, you’re just out of prison—let’s hear it!”
This band is still a bastion of cool, and Gibbons is one of the most stylish frontmen over 60. I didn’t need the encore to believe that, but knowing what was coming made me impatient. After a few lesser known songs came a set of hits that played out like the fireworks finale on the Fourth. The band brought out fuzzy white guitars for “Legs” (cool), and Gibbons walked over to the woman doing sign language for the crowd and gave her a high five (super cool). When they came out for “La Grange,” the beardos were wearing black leathers with sequins and all the cool made the fans finally get on their feet.
Maybe the woman next to me who took her Virginia Slims and slithered out before the last song had the right idea—the band’s closing take on “Jailhouse Rock” sounded pretty unnecessary against such a strong backdrop of their own hits. Before the last riff, though, a lady in leather jumped on stage out of nowhere, throwing her arms around the band like they were old friends. A cartoonish chase with security ensued. I walked out into the smoky haze, blinging sound of lotto machines not far off, disco bingo in full force up down the hall. I blew $5 on nickel slots, smoked my single cig and left, “La Grange” blaring on the stereo.
Got Me Under Pressure
Waitin' for the Bus
Jesus Just Left Chicago
Gimme All Your Lovin'
I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide
I Gotsta Get Paid
Foxy Lady (The Jimi Hendrix Experience cover)
My Head's in Mississippi
Catfish Blues (Robert Petway cover)
Sixteen Tons (Merle Travis cover)
Act Naturally (Buck Owens and the Buckaroos cover)
Just Got Paid
Sharp Dressed Man
Jailhouse Rock (Elvis Presley cover)