ZZ Top, Bad Company, and Cheap Trick Stage a Texas Jam

Seventies headliners reanimate the me decade for the ages

Math dissembles much about Sunday night at Circuit of the Americas. Seventies stadium stalwarts Cheap Trick, Bad Company, and ZZ Top count three of four original members, two of four initiates, and all three founders, respectively. Their ages total 551 years. Had Aerosmith, Deep Purple, and the Doobie Brothers added, that’s 1,000 years of classic rock.

And should such a day on the green occur, stage it here at Memorial Stadium!

Cheap Trick’s Robin Zander and Daxx Nielsen (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Headliners ZZ Top and direct support Bad Company infamously performed there at UT in 1974, a cool four and one-half decades ago. Cheap Trick, birthed a year earlier, thus constituted the baby band on the stack at the track yesterday. Lifetime achievement recipient of the Dorian Gray prize in Rock & Roll, frontman Robin Zander, 66, performed in his trademark stage whites and Dream Police patrolman’s hat.

More importantly, his untouched voice – a disarming tenor entwining a tart croon with a sneering edge – matches the singer’s good looks. Forever conjoined to the garage band flash of guitarist Rick Nielsen, 70, and harmony constant bassist Tom Petersson, 69, the stripper cop belting “She’s Tight” from overlooked 1982 keeper One on One made 2019 sound every inch of 1977. Backed by his son Robin on second guitar and Nielsen’s son Daxx on ductile drums, Zander barked and bent “California Man” and “Ain’t That a Shame” with a Hall of Fame bump and grind very nearly reduced to a footnote in the face of ensuing FM standards triptych “I Want You to Want Me,” “Dream Police,” and “Surrender.”

Bad Company frontman Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke, who led an encore of “All Right Now” from their precursor act Free (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Also representing club 69, sexagenarians Paul Rodgers and Simon Kirke led Jurassic UK anthemists Bad Company sans first team bassist Boz Burrell (1946-2006) and guitarist Mick Ralphs, who suffered a stroke in 2016. The patched-up quartet missed all 10 of those strings in its rhythmic engine room, but by the grand, heavy gravitas of their namesake song concluding the hour-long set then encored with Free’s “All Right Now,” they lived up to its and their title. Kirke’s mid-set acoustic plug for a solo LP and a plodding, too-faithful cover of the Hendrix arrangement to Bob Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” by fill-in axe veteran Howard Leese (Heart) with his wizardly silver locks dragged as well.

Auspiciously, then, Rodgers rose to the occasion. Opening catalog highlights “Can’t Get Enough,” “Rock & Roll Fantasy,” “Movin’ On,” and “Feel Like Making Love,” to which he lent brief harmonica, found the onetime Free singer’s iconic British blues echo perfectly preserved, and balladic triad “Ready for Love,” “Seagull,” and “Shooting Star” saw him find the nooks and crannies of every verse to insert asides, ad libs, and vocal emphasis in true vocalist mode, always searching for a new avenue to allow his God-given gift to ring the rock of ages. A new coda to “Ready for Love” worked wonders for the old warhorse from the group’s eponymous 1974 bow.

Leaving ZZ Top the goal-line honors of the night.

ZZ Top headlining Circuit of the Americas on 5.19.19 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Billy Gibbons, 69, spent most of the rough and tumble, 75-minute knock-out not two feet from low-end pluck Dusty Hill, 70 yesterday, and about three yards from beat piston Frank Beard, 70 next month. The former’s distressed, Gulf Coast vocalese had obviously suffered from a transatlantic summit with Jeff Beck, but he and Hill trading lines on firestarter “Got Me Under Pressure” stood COTA’s collective neck hair on end, and barreled into familiar live set foundation “I Thank You,” “Waiting for the Bus,” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” all as chunky as the Rockies. “Gimme All Your Loving” pooled thick as magma.

“This is where it all started, right here in Texas,” croaked Gibbons after Hill rattled the bones of “Pearl Necklace” with live-wire bass. “We’ve been coming here [to Austin] for five decades.”

His voice disintegrated audibly from there, but nowhere else could that have served better than on the succeeding “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” an organically chopped-and-screwed “I Gotsa Get Paid,” “My Head’s in Mississippi,” and Jeff Beck nod “Sixteen Tons.” Fifty-five minutes in, Gibbons finally changed guitars and tunings. His slide guitar scalpel sliced, diced, and shredded “Just Got Paid.”

Penultimate TKOs “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs” set up a quick encore of “La Grange” and “Tush.” From 6:40pm to 10:50pm, the Lone Star capital revisited its Texas Jam antecedents as if in a veritable time machine. One key detail on this three-city, mini-tour alignment hadn’t budged in the 50 years since the little ol’ band from Houston took rock & roll by storm: ZZ Top – still No. 1 with a bullet.

Full photo gallery here.

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ZZ Top, Bad Company, Cheap Trick, Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, Frank Beard, Paul Rodgers, Simon Kirke, Howard Leese, Robin Zander, Rick Nielsen, Daxx Nielsen, Tom Petersson, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Boz Burrell, Mick Ralphs, Texas Jam, Jeff Beck

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