Music

Review: ZZ Top & Thunder bring the blues back to The SSE Arena, Wembley

‘ZZ does it as the Texan stalwarts bring their wealth of historic, blues laden rock ’n’ roll to one of the capital’s biggest venues, with UK hard rock heroes, Thunder, providing a hefty undercard billing

The balmy June air is thick with anticipation as American trio, ZZ Top, play their first show on London soil in two years. The beer guts and dusted-off denims are out in full force as thousands of old-school fans (many with kids in tow, it appears) descend upon The SSE Arena, Wembley for a night of hard rock revelry.

First up comes a stellar support slot from UK titans Thunder. Aptly taking to the stage to AC/DC’s Thunderstruck (a band who go on to play the arena’s stadium-sized brother the following week), the recently reunited rockers get the crowd’s collective juices flowing with opener Dirty Love. Vocalist Danny Bowes – possessing all the right stage moves, thrusting and whipping the crowd into a frenzy – is clearly still at the top of his vocal game 30 years down the line.

Thunder 2015 review

A wall of Marshall and Orange amps are complimented by an arena-sized light show as lead guitarist Luke Morley blasts out some equally arena-sized solos on the likes of River of Pain and Black Water. With much enthusiasm, the quintet flit between their 1989 debut, Back Street Symphony, and the recently released, Wonder Days, as if no time has passed at all. They close on a stomping I Love You More Than Rock ‘n’ Roll and, in case anyone doubted them, confirm there’s still plenty of life left in these songs yet.

After a lengthy 40 minute interval, two screens adorning either side of Frank Beard’s drum kit display ‘Rated ZZ’ cinema-esque rating symbols as THX’s The Audience is Listening booms out of the speakers. The lights drop and the cheers raise the roof as Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill strut out on to the vast stage straight into the high-voltage Got Me Under Pressure, before Gibbons states: “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s party time.”

Every trademark ZZ Top-ism is flaunted in full force as Gibbons and Hill move in unison with matching outfits, guitar colours, hats, sunglasses and of course, fully-fledged riff wizard beards. Waitin’ for the Bus and Jesus Just Left Chicago are up next, the latter replete with Gibbons rasping “London Town” instead of “New Orleans” in the verse, to much adulation. Frank Beard (ironically, the one without a beard) gets the crowd rowdy four songs in, smashing out the intro to Give Me All Your Lovin’ as an arena-wide sing-along breaks out.

Older tracks like I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide and Pincushion stand up directly with I Gotsta Get Paid from 2012’s La Futura – ZZ Top proving song by song that they are a timeless act. A duo of covers in the form of Foxy Lady and Catfish Blues extend out into a huge blues jam and though it brings a slight lull to the proceedings, it’s a pleasure to watch the masters at work.

As Gibbons said earlier in the show: “Same three guys, same three chords”. The simplicity and downright catchiness of their songs has made ZZ Top a mainstay in the upper echelons of the rock ‘n’ roll contingency for the past four decades and with a 1-2 closing hit of Sharp Dressed Man and Legs (fluffy guitars included), it’s clear to see why.

Not quite done yet, the Texans come back out for an encore and as a special treat for London, they bring out none other than English guitar legend, Jeff Beck, to play with them on his 71st birthday no less. After cake and a huge rendition of Happy Birthday from the crowd, Beck and the boys bust out four huge tracks, ending on a rip roarin’ take on Tush. Bands like this aren’t going to be around forever, so if they ever come to an arena near you, make sure you get to a show.

Like this review? See more from Callum at @cgalbraith and callumgalbraith.com.

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