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That little ol' band from Texas.
This is the right way for an artist to reward loyal fans: compile two DVDs, one containing a legendary classic performance and the other containing the best from recent shows, add some spectacular sound mixes for maximum volume, and the results are irresistible. Double Down Live is an absolutely spectacular release and is far superior to ZZ Top's previous live DVD, the lackluster Live in Texas. Ignore that one-this set is the real deal that demonstrates ZZ Top's formidable abilities as a live act better than any other concert recording they've ever done.
Disc One, called "Definitely Then…," was filmed at Essen, Germany, on April 19, 1980. Here is the setlist:
"I Thank You"
Disc Two, called "Almost Now…," compiles performances from various shows during ZZ Top's 2008 World Tour, along with some interviews and behind-the-scenes footage. Here is the listing for that one:
"Got Me Under Pressure"
It's the first disc that's the real meat of the set. Filmed for the German TV show Rockpalast, this concert has been sought after by fans for years. It was recorded when ZZ Top was at the peak of its formidable powers and touring behind Degüello (1979), one of the band's definitive recordings. The show is a perfect example of why ZZ Top was frequently lauded as one of the best live acts of their era. Guitarist/singer Billy Gibbons shows off his impressive skills as both rhythm and lead guitarist, hammering out thick slabs of rhythm guitar but also cranking out some stunning solos. Drummer Frank Beard proves that his simple yet swinging style helps ZZ Top's music punch harder than almost any other blues-rock band outside of the Rolling Stones. The real revelation, however, is singer/bassist Dusty Hill. Often neglected as just Gibbons' backing musician, Hill proves his worth here. His lead vocals are as raw and gritty as Gibbons, and his basslines provide the rock-solid bottom that ZZ Top's music needs to work. The setlist is also excellent, including every song off of Degüello (except the last one) and digging through the band's catalog to include obscure gems like "Nasty Dogs & Funky Kings" and "Hi-Fi Mama," which ZZ Top no longer performs live. The band even premieres "Tube Snake Boogie," a song that would not appear on record until one year later on the album El Loco (1981). The members are in high energy, clearly drawing from the enthusiastic audience and playing with unceasing power, until the show climaxes with the most ferocious version of "Just Got Paid" that ZZ Top has probably ever played.
Disc two isn't as revelatory as the first one, but it does serve as a nice complement. While ZZ Top in 2008 isn't quite the exceptional live act that ZZ Top in 1980 was, the band does still have its moments and this disc does a much better job of presenting them than Live in Texas did. For one thing, this DVD has the advantage being able to pick and choose the best performances from various concerts, rather than rely on one entire show as that DVD did. It also has more freedom to pick songs that are not necessarily hits; instead of having to include yet another version of "Legs" or "Rough Boy," the disc provides performances of lesser-known fan favorites like "Blue Jean Blues" and "I Need You Tonight." Time may have taken its toll on Hill's voice and Gibbons' fingers-neither is as sharp as in years past-and the band is less raw and spontaneous than it was in the 1980 concert. Still, even if these performances are a little too polished and lacking in bite, they're still enjoyable anyways, and the interludes of behind-the-scenes footage are nice additions.
Technically, the set is a bit mixed. The 4:3 transfer on the 1980 concert is, well, not great. Because it was shot on videotape, it's awfully grainy and the red bleeds heavily into all the other colors. It's also frequently riddled with dark horizontal bands that occur when the music gets too loud for the video to handle. The 16:9 transfer on the second disc, on the other hand, looks excellent considering it was also shot on standard (not HD) video, although it should have been anamorphic. It's the sound mixes where this package excels. Eagle Rock has always provided stellar sound mixes for its concert DVDs and this one is no exception. Both the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes for both discs are phenomenal, stunningly loud but also perfectly balanced and separated. You'll really feel like you're there, except without the drunken rednecks. There are no extras.
Ultimately, this is by far ZZ Top's best DVD. It may not be as technically pristine as Live in Texas, which was shot on DV for maximum slickness, but the musical performances here, especially the 1980 concert, blow the earlier release out of the water. Overlook the admittedly second-rate video quality-after all, ZZ Top's raunchy guitar grooves sound their best in a smoke-filled booze-soaked atmosphere, right? For both newcomers and longtime fans, this is the ultimate ZZ Top concert recording.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Eagle Rock Entertainment
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