Double Down Live

ZZ Top

On the heels of 2008’s Live In Texas DVD and CD set — their very first “official” concert video — ZZ Top are back with a second DVD, a double set with two shows. Double Down Live captures the Texas trio in top form 28 years apart — the first disc (aka “Definitely Then”) contains a sizzling performance from 1980; the second disc (aka “Almost Now”) was shot during the band’s 2008 European tour. Considering the three-decade buffer, ZZ top is no worse for the wear.

After 10 years together, ZZ Top were still charting singles and touring strong in 1980, despite the changing musical tide (their popularity shifted into overdrive when MTV use to play their videos 4,000 times a day). But in 1980, even as they began experimenting with new, contemporary sounds, ZZ Top was still a little ole’ band from Texas when it came to playing live. Bedecked with the beards as always, but a little rougher and dirtier around the edges, the Top played a fabulous 22-song set in Essen, Germany, for the TV series Rockpalast. Luckily video of the performance, while not exactly in pristine condition, has been “officially” dusted off and included here.

Longtime Top fans will leap for joy at hearing and seeing the band boogying down in the days before for Eliminator. We’re talking high-impact powder kegs like “Thank You,” “Waiting’ For The Bus,” “Heard It On The X,” “Cheap Sunglasses,” “Beer Drinkers & Hell Raiser,” “La Grange” and “Tush.” Slotted between the rockers are those emotive blues-based benders for which the band is known. Who can’t help but feel the pitter-patter of “Jesus Just Left Chicago” or “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”? Digging in even deeper, guitarist Bill Gibbons unfurls his soul on the sultry “Fool For Your Stockings” as easily as waddling through the muddy trenches of “El Diablo” — it’s built into his DNA.

Just as surefire are bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard in their respective roles as anchors and enablers. It’s hard to imagine the moves by Hill and Gibbons are not pre-choreographed on some level, but then you remember these are Texas boys with naturally suave hips and chops to match. They even make the occasional odd ball like “Manic Mechanic” sound cool.

Fast-forward three decades and ZZ Top are Rock and Roll Hall of Famers with nothing to lose. As it is pointed out in director Jamie Burton Chamberlain’s liner notes in the booklet included with the DVD, the “Almost Now” segment differs from Live In Texas in that it draw from multiple Europeans performances using a “single camera.” Indeed, this is a far more ambitious, cinematic portrayal of the band — the quick cutaways keep pace with the music while the surreal transitions (some shot in black and white), interspersed interviews, traveling footage and glimpses backstage, on stage and elsewhere, catch rarely seen sides of Gibbons, Hill and Beard.

Song-wise, the first four numbers are identical to that of Live From Texas with little deviation, but then the selections begin to vary. “Blue Jean Blues” is another tear-jerking blues bomber Gibbons was born to play. “I Need You Tonight,” a “low-down and dirty blues” song from Eliminator, demonstrates that even as the band were churning out music videos, their hearts were still adrift in the Delta. Surprisingly, this DVD forgoes hits like “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man,” and “Legs,” instead featuring mostly songs the band recorded before they climbed into their cherry-red 1933 Ford Coupe hot rod and sped off into the star-lit night. Granted, I could have gone for a little “Pin Cushion,” but the pluses outweigh the minuses on Double Down Live, a magnificent look at one of rock and roll’s longest-running success stories.

~ Shawn Perry

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