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Sunday, November 15, 2009

DVD Review: ZZ Top - Double Down Live 1980 * 2008

ZZ Top - Double Down Live 1980 * 2008
2009 Eagle Vision
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



Four decades these guys have been around, sheesh. No lineup changes, either; it's the same tres hombres there ever was. Not many groups can say that for themselves. ZZ Top is a band beyond the shaggy chins, the grimy leather trenches and these days a laidback stage candor where knee-cracked listing and dipping may not be with the same arc levels as their past, but this is ZZ Top deep down to the grits and gravy.

Glancing at the decidedly young crowd on the second disc of ZZ Top's latest DVD offering Double Down Live 1980 * 2008, it's fun to watch these kids banging their heads and throwing up horns to the tune of blues-laced crawldads such as "Waitin' for the Bus" and "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide." It's surreal, when you cut the cloth.

Apparently this youth brigade recognizes something primal in ZZ Top their senior couterparts have of late taken for granted. Of course, overexposure might have something to do with that. If you stop and listen for days on end, you will nary go a day on a classic rock station without hearing the dirty boogie tugs of "La Grange" and "Tush" spun in prime airtime slots. These two songs are as obligatory to classic rock studios as "Sweet Home Alabama" and "More Than a Feeling."

Why aren't ZZ Top mega stars any longer? Of course, their elborate, light-sparkled stage set and sold-out shows would indicate otherwise, yet you can hear guitarist Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill mull almost at a whisper before a French interviewer on the "Almost Now...2008" disc of this set about how life in ZZ Top is practically at a starting point all over again.

The moonshine boys are rarely seen these days in public without shades (you know these dudes own no cheap sunglasses) wedged between their smothering cranial covers and chin foliage, while drummer Dusty Hill looks more effortless and clock-punched in his business than Charlie Watts. A ZZ Top performance nowadays--gauging "Almost Now...2008" and the band's 2007 DVD ZZ Top Live From Texas--looks every bit befitting of elder blues rockers placed well upon a rightful pedestal. Gibbons alone is a master showman with his strings, a generally overlooked blues-country-rawk cat of our time. Still, a ZZ Top audience is reverential yet out for a good time (particularly the ladies with their pearl necklaces, ahem ahem) and the guys deliver a party down vibe better than most of their competition. One spool of the opening zap, "Got Me Under Pressure" and it's game on...

Double Down Live 1980 * 2008 is split between ZZ Top a year ago and ZZ Top 29 years ago. Frankly, it's the 1980 footage you're after with this set, albeit the Rio Grande Mudbums pare out virtually all of their crossover hits ala Eliminator and Afterburner on the second disc, so consider that a caveat...or a selling point depending on your affinities. Double Down Live 1980 * 2008 is for the hardcore fans of ZZ Top and those with a deep appreciation of roots in modern rock 'n roll.

The "Definitely Then...1980" half of the set is a 2-hour old school fiesta filmed in Essen, Germany for the Rockpalast live music series which Eagle Vision has begun to tap generously into their vaults, taking into consideration other recent Rockpalast releases centered around Lynard Skynard, Deep Purple and Thin Lizzy.

Chocked full of the pie ingredients ZZ Top made their legend upon prior to elevating into the mainstream, the set list is comprised largely from their Tres Hombres, Fandango and Deguello albums, the latter of which was being toured heavily at this point in the band's career. It would only be three years from this point when ZZ Top's fate would be whisked into a wide-open fast lane for their famed cherry red '32 coupe to propel them to even bigger heights.

"Definitely Then...1980" is naturally the more energetic of the two shows featured in this package. While Frank Beard looks no less reserved behind the kit almost three decades ago as he does today, Gibbons and Hill are the genuine blues brothers out in front. They lurch in tandem at 75 degrees, they bop around the stage in gambler suits and they strut together in place with a symmetrical shimmy. Gibbons pogos around while wearing a bowler derby as Hill plucks his bass as if in a trance before his turns on the mike, where he gets nearly rowdy at times.

Nearly the entire Deguello album minus "Esther Be the One" makes it into this set, so you're naturally in for a treat with "She Loves My Automobile," "Hi Fi Mama," "Manic Mechanic," "I Thank You," "A Fool for Your Stockings" and of course, "Cheap Sunglasses." Only "El Loco" and "Arrested While Driving Blind" gets tapped from Tejas, one of the band's lesser-appreciated albums, "Just Got Paid" is the only representative of Rio Grande Mud and there's a complete skip-over with ZZ Top's First Album. What, no "Back Door Action?"

However, you do get the goodies such as "Jesus Just Left Chicago," "Waitin' for the Bus," "Heard it On the X," "Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers" an "I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide," plus the staples "Tush," "La Grange" and the always-hilarious "Tube Snake Boogie." Two curtain calls later, you're as wiped out as the sweat-drenched band...

"Almost Now...2008" likewise cues up the vintage catalog with crisper and cleaner (albeit somewhat slower) measures on "Blue Jean Blues," "Jesus Just Left Chicago" and "Just Got Paid," while surprisingly uncorking "Need You Tonight" from Eliminator. A reasonable cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe" leads into the expected finale "Tush," which rolls amidst the final credits. All that has transpired on this disc, which includes sluggisly-paced interview segments and a press photo shoot sequence looking similarly suspect to that which is shown in ZZ Top - Live From Texas gives a round robin feel to Double Down Live 1980 * 2008.

Indeed, Gibbons and Hill are accurate when they pinpoint their careers have begun all over again. The only difference now is they still have a glossy venue to showcase their stuff instead of a hellhole whiskey bar flung nowhere in the Texarkana badlands.

Rating: ****

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