ZZ Top/Lynyrd Skynyrd/Cheap Trick at FivePoint Amphiteatre
photo credit: Alex Kluft
It is irrelevant how a solo headlining appearance by Lynyrd Skynyrd evolved into a fantastic three-headed behemoth slotting Skynyrd between Cheap Trick and ZZ Top. Perhaps as a 50th anniversary present, Skynyrd graciously ceded the show’s closing spot to the Texas trio. Regardless, ZZ Top more than expressed their gratitude with 90 minutes of raw, searing power.
Celebrating 50 years together, the bearded duo of bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons, and their mustachioed drummer, Frank Beard, sizzled and strutted through a set dominated by the decade-and-a-half span beginning with their birth in ‘69 through 1983’s massive hit, Eliminator. There were the chart-toppers- “Legs” and “Gimme All Your Lovin,”- and nods to the early years- “Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers” and “Just Got Paid.” And a first encore of “La Grange” and “Tush” that wasn’t enough for the capacity crowd, bringing the three back for a “Jailhouse Rock” finale.
Hill and Gibbons were, as always, fashionably cool, flashing faux-tattered guitars splattered in day-glo paint; an apt metaphor for a group forever with one foot planted in vintage blues and the other progressively stepping forward. On this night, though, there was none of the synth-gloss embellishment that famously coated Eliminator. Instead, Top delivered the smashes of their ‘80s catalog in the same manner as their early roadhouse repertoire; with Beard’s percussive precision anchoring Hill’s jacked-up rumble and Gibbons’ barbed-wire bites, branding the boogies, shuffles, and rockers with hot-iron heat.
Lynyrd Skynyrd dutifully adhered to the principle of giving the people what they want on a well-honed run through the classics. Singer Johnny Van Zant noted the 33 years this tribute group has been on the road, now in the midst of their Last of the Street Survivors farewell tour. Notably, the show also marked the first return to the stage for guitarist Gary Rossington, the only founding member remaining from the original group, after a late-July surgery.
Rossington looked in good health and spirit, playing the indelible slide guitar of the closing “Freebird” beneath the candle-lit names of Skynyrd’s many deceased projected above. Van Zant had one more heart string to pull, placing his late brother Ronnie’s iconic hat atop his mic stand and exiting the stage. Via archival black-and-white video, the band’s founding vocalist sang the final lines before the famed extended guitar solo carried out this polished, yet emotional performance.
It seems unfair to reduce Cheap Trick’s exuberant and sharply executed appearance to a quick mention. Especially given that it included Guns N’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke sitting-in on “Dream Police” and “Surrender.” For those there early enough to enjoy it, no doubt it will be remembered equally as well in the legacy of this summer night when three of America’s quintessential classic rock bands thrilled Southern California.