Nederlander Concerts brought another sold-out show to the spectacular Vina Robles Amphitheater, on a sun-drenched summer Sunday, August 25th. A double bill featuring ZZ Top and Cheap Trick filled the venue with several hours of classic rock hits. As is the custom at the mountainside venue fans arrived early to sample Vina Robles fine wines, craft beers, and gourmet snacks. The venue is adjacent to Vina Robles vineyards which have been producing fine California wines for over 20 years. 2007 saw the opening of the Vina Robles Hospitality Center, a 14,000-square-foot facility that combines “classic California Mission-style design with modern European elegance,” according to the winery’s website. In the summer of 2013, the Vina Robles Amphitheatre celebrated its grand opening and now hosts world-class artists April through October each year.
Cheap Trick opened the show with an explosive 16 song set of their classic rock hits. The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers produced chart-topping hits through two decades in the 1970s and '80s, selling over 20 million records. The band, which has played more than 5000 shows is known for their animated live shows and rock star onstage antics. The current tour features three of the four original members including, singer-guitarist Robin Zander, guitarist Rick Nielsen, and bassist Tom Petersson. Charismatic lead singer Zander pranced about the stage in a sailing captains’ hat, nailing the vocals and making contact with much of the audience in the front of the venue. The band mixed up the setlist, with several older deep cuts and a couple of newer songs added to the hit-laden mix. While Zander pranced about, guitar extraordinaire Nielsen played searing guitar riffs on multiple guitars while beaming wildly. The eccentric musician is on the top of many all-time best rock guitarists lists and plays an array of custom guitars including the box-shaped Rockford Hamer and his signature multi necked guitar. The band jammed a couple of their well-known tunes showing their musical prowess, going far beyond the confines of the pop hits basic structures. The group has been opening their set with their 1977 hit “Hello There,” but checking setlists from different dates it appears the band mixes up the set, offering a different show at each venue. The chemistry between Zander and Nielsen was undeniable, especially when they played some of the band’s biggest hits like “I Want You to Want Me” and “Dream Police.” Bassist Petersson got a chance to take the lead singing a cover of The Velvet Underground’s “I’m Waiting for the Man,” and playing a heart-thumping bass jam. By the time the group returned for a two-song encore, including “Surrender” and “Goodnight Now,” most everyone in the venue was on their feet singing and dancing along to the well-known tunes.
The sun faded during intermission, and a star-filled summer sky began to appear. The masters of Texas Blues-rock took the stage to play a 17 song setlist full of classic rock hits. The band played the well-known tunes flawlessly, but the performance seemed a bit tame following the over the top animated energy of Cheap Trick’s opening set. The ZZ Top show seemed all the timider considering it was billed as their 50th-anniversary show and a documentary film about the group was just recently released. But the iconic trio more than made up with their stoic stage presence with precision musicianship on the band’s biggest hits. The band opened with their signature Blues-rock masterpiece “Got Me Under Pressure.” Guitarist Billy Gibbons, Bassist Dusty Hill & Drummer Frank Beard mixed up their setlist to include their top hits like “Gimme All Your Lovin” interspersed with their bluesier tunes like “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Hit songs like “Pearl Necklace,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” and “My Head’s In Mississippi” had the crowd on their feet for most of the show. The set ended with crowd-pleasing hits including “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs,” the latter complete with furry spinning guitars.
The band returned fro a two-song encore featuring Texas Blues-rock classics “La Grange” and “Tush.” After a second standing ovation, the band returned for yet another tune, a cover of Elvis Presley’s “Jailhouse Rock.” It was another beautiful summer night at the Vina Robles Amphitheater filled with classic rock songs.