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Living the Unexamined Life, Happily

ZZ Top is still bad, but now they're planet-wide. And they ain't thinking too hard about it

"It's not so frightening, but it's definitely fun. When they said Warsaw, Poland, I went, 'Wow, far out,' but the videos are real popular there. But the thing is, you've still got to go over there, and they've never heard us live, so you've got to step up to the plate and deliver. Now, that to us is a good pressure."

Stateside, though, the pressure on any band that has lasted as long as ZZ Top is to reconnect with an audience that has been largely converted these past three years to a new breed of rock and roll, one that opens its arms wide to the assorted isms of the brave new world. In 1976, for example, it was almost unthinkable (not to mention redundant) to accuse a rock band of sexism. Today, though, feminist consciousness has filtered so far down the food chain that every Podunk daily in Backwater, Nowhere, can score enlightenment points for pointing out the fact that, hey, ZZ Top trades in objectifying male fantasy. Yes sir, they do. The male fantasy of three chords, tricked cars and loose womens. And no, thank you, they may have changed record labels, but they won't be changing that outlook any time soon, despite the presence on Antenna of what many critics are calling a safe sex song, "Cover Your Rig."

"I'm not sure we've ever been accused of being politically correct," Hill understates. "I've never really thought of us as being too far out there. We write what we write and sing what we sing. We don't really concern ourselves that much with it. We don't get a lot of hassle about it, and if we did I'm not sure we would change anything anyway."

And what about recapturing a rock audience that may have jammed to "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide" in junior high but has since transferred its arena-rock loyalties to Lollapalooza?

"I'm pretty big on not over-examining things. I think that if you do that you get so close that you can't really see them anymore. I listen to the radio like everybody does, and I like some and don't like some, you know, but the thing is, in reality, when we're writing and recording, I don't listen too much to the radio, because I don't really want to be over-influenced while I'm creating something. I just listen to old blues, I've already been influenced by them. So by the time it's written and we're out, I haven't really noticed that much. You'd have to be deaf and blind not to notice grunge and all that, but we just do what we do."

What ZZ does this time around is true grit, from Antenna's opening slab of crunch "Pincushion" to classic innuendo riffs like "Fuzzbox Voodoo" and "Cherry Red" to bald-faced odes like "Girl in a T-Shirt." Gibbons' guitar is front and center. As usual, he plays no more notes than necessary, but he plays each one grimy, with a fuzzed-out flavor. On stage, he and Hill are playing their trademark upholstered guitars in front of a stage set designed to conjure a dashboard, complete with leggy dancing girls and, according to the advance word, a stunt straight out of Spinal Tap involving oversized audio component tubes.

But for all the love of cars and chicks and self-parodying super-sizing, what keeps ZZ Top rolling is as simple as the three chords the band claims never to have expanded on.

"It's gonna sound corny whatever you say, but it's an enjoyment of playing," Hill explains. "The three of us enjoy working together. There's a communication that was apparent right away, and that has grown the longer we're together. We all love the three-piece format. If I did a solo album I'd probably use Frank and Billy on it, you know? And the same with them. It's coming up on 25 years, and we just never really examined it."

Someone once said something disparaging about the unexamined life, but forget that crap, because it obviously doesn't apply to rock and roll.

ZZ Top plays at 8 p.m., Saturday, November 5 and Sunday, November 6 at the Summit. Jackyl opens. Tickets cost $20.75 to $30.75. Call 629-3700 for info.

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