If the Simpsons and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles wanted to know how to do a cartoon rock-and-roll show, they should have been at Capital Centre Sunday night, when ZZ Top put on a state-of-the-art cartoon-rock show. These three Middle-Aged Mutant Hirsute Texans aren't great musicians, but they are great entertainers, and Sunday night they kept the jampacked arena happy with dumb but fun hard rock and one clever bit of staging after another.
If you think it's hard to tell the Ninja Turtles apart, you should have seen Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill in their matching white baseball caps, sunglasses, black suits, white hollow-bodied guitars (Hill's was actually a bass) and belly-length beards. They played amid an elaborate set resembling an auto junkyard, complete with mounds of crushed wrecks and a working giant magnet on a trestle. Because most of the songs sounded indistinguishable, each had its own staging gimmick: a dazzling laser show, a pop-up drum kit, a treadmill for the musicians, fireworks and giant steel jaws. The music -- generic blues-rock -- was merely an effective soundtrack for the show.
ZZ top was upstaged musically by its opening act, the Black Crowes. This Atlanta quintet is the best thing to happen to hard rock in many years. At their best Sunday night, the Crowes sounded like Rod Stewart backed by Lynyrd Skynyrd playing "Exile on Main Street." Rhythm guitarist Rich Robinson served up one catchy, bluesy guitar hook after another; his older brother, Chris, not only belted out the original songs with authority but also threw his tall, skinny frame about in nonstop dancing. What other scraggly hard-rock band could turn in a respectable version of Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" and then a James Brown funk version of the Beatles' "Get Back"?