ZZ Top is a case study in how capitalism can nudge artists in more interesting directions than they're constitutionally inclined to pursue. Billy Gibbons, Frank Beard, and Dusty Hill were blues bores who gradually--and somewhat miraculously--tightened up throughout the 70s as more people started paying attention. Their quality level would spike twice: first when brothers Aykroyd and Belushi sparked a wider interest in 12-bar bands, again when MTV demanded a synth hook and a slick look. But as the 80s would ultimately teach us, unfettered capitalism results in such crises of excess as the savings and loan scandal and the attempted power ballad "Rough Boy." The invisible hand has failed to efficiently commodify the Top's legacy, but the new two-disc retrospective Rancho Texicano: The Very Best of ZZ Top (Rhino) is in some ways a welcome corrective to the 1992 18-track Greatest Hits, which omitted worthy oldies like "Francine" and "Arrested for Driving While Blind." Listening back, it's hard to imagine 80s commercial rock without Gibbons's cable-thick power chords and crazily overdriven harmonics. He was ripped off by everyone from Mark Knopfler to Eddie Van Halen--all that's missing from the "Hot for Teacher" blueprint "Heard It on the X" are the white top hats and tails. But this band doesn't quite have 38 "very best" songs, not even counting the live track and two remixes tacked on at the end. Still, you might not have noticed the shortfall had they topped off the new comp with tracks from the grungy post-Warner discs they've issued over the past decade, on which the authors of "Pearl Necklace" and "Tube Snake Boogie" work so diligently to replenish our store of sex euphemisms ("Fuzzbox Voodoo"! "Poke Chop Sandwich"!) that Lil Jon might want to give 'em a ring. The Doors of the 21st Century, Tesla, and Blue Oyster Cult open. $15-$47. Sunday, July 4, 3:30 PM, Tweeter Center, I-80 and Harlem, Tinley Park; 708-614-1616 or 312-559-1212.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael S. Waring.