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Texas trio ZZ Top: Greasy guitar playing, lots of hits during first Victoria concert since 2016

Concert review: '80s hitmakers performed at Victoria's Memorial Centre on Friday and cranked up the volume.
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Elwood Francis, left, Billy Gibbons and drummer Frank Beard let it rip during the ZZ Top concert at Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre on Friday night. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST April 22, 2022

What: ZZ Top with Cheap Trick
Where: Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre
When: Friday, April 22
Rating: 4 (out of 5)

When rockers ZZ Top last played Victoria, in 2016, it was on a Friday night — which is their time to shine, it would be safe to assume.

The ’80s hitmakers returned to Save-on-Foods Memorial Centre, once again on a Friday, and cranked the volume up — way up — for 80 minutes of Texas boogie.

The band was without one of its core members, bassist Dusty Hill, who died in July at 72. His replacement, the band’s former guitar tech, Elwood Francis, fell perfectly into place — beard and all — which came as a welcome relief.

The band’s first line-up change in more than 50 years came and went without a hitch.

ZZ Top’s Canadian tour with openers Cheap Trick was originally set to begin in ­Victoria on April 29, 2020, which would have featured Hill. He was missed, but the Texas trio sounded strong and cohesive on this night. Welcome to the party, Elwood.

His presence seemed to spark singer-guitarist Billy Gibbons, who had to work much harder Friday than he did six years ago (Hill sang lead on several songs and offered timely back-up vocals throughout ZZ Top’s career). Gibbons rose to the challenge, and was in fine voice throughout.

His guitar playing was typically greasy, carrying the show with a series of languid leads. Gibbons is the creator of his own brand of boogie bouillabaisse, a recipe that is imbued with ­charcoal and champagne. The quality never dipped, where his playing was concerned, even when he and Francis broke out the faux-fur guitars.

Cheap Trick, playing only its fourth show ever in Victoria, and first since a 2016 appearance at the University of Victoria’s ­Farquhar Auditorium, was flat-out deafening in the opening slot. Volume isn’t a problem if the acoustics play along, but the set was muddy and listless.

The abundance of empty seats at the outset didn’t help matters — start time was 7 p.m., when most attendees were getting primed in the lobby — and the band’s energy was largely lacking.

The sound improved by the time the Rockford, Illinois quintet arrived at the meat of their catalogue, which eventually brought things up to a passable level.

The Flame, I Want You To Want Me, Dream Police, and Surrender were played well, but they are recognizable hits with decades of FM radio spins to their credit. They were expected to be highlights, and offered the only takeaways of the night for the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers.

ZZ Top is in the enviable position of having dozens of legitimate hits, which makes comparisons between them and Cheap Trick unfair.

There’s a reason they were the headliners, and they proved it during a strong opening ­section that included Gimme All Your Lovin', I Thank You and Got Me Under Pressure.

By the time the group closed out the night with Legs, Tube Snake Boogie. and La Grange, it felt like the ’70s and ’80s were alive and well.

Attendance was reported as 4,200. 

Mdevlin@timescolonist.com

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