Judge Gordon Sullivan takes a trip down memory lane, but would like to go further back.
Our review of ZZ Top: Live from Texas, published June 26th, 2008, is also available.
"They come runnin' just as fast as they can
I grew up listening to Tres Hombres-era ZZ Top, totally missing out on the band's biggest hits (we didn't get cable or listen to the radio much). When I finally got a chance to check out the Eliminator-era hits ("Gimmie All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man") and MTV antics my first reaction was "sellouts." The synthesizers and visual shtick seemed a betrayal of ZZ Top's blues-soaked roots. Eventually, I came around: even if they are sellouts, these guys were having too much fun to ignore. Plus, the music was catchy as hell. I've since had the pleasure of seeing ZZ Top perform live, so I was quite pleased to get my hands on this Blu-ray disc. Although my first thought after viewing wasn't "sellout," my reactions are mixed.
Before I discuss the show any further, here's the set list:
• "Got Me Under Pressure"
My favorite part of ZZ Top: Live from Texas is the set list. It's as close to a ZZ Top "Greatest Hits" as you could want. We could quibble about the details, but pound for pound this is ZZ Top's most famous (and some might say best) work. It was also interesting to hear some of these songs in a live context, stripped of many of the production flourishes that accompany the studio versions. Gone are the synthesizers and the polished vocals, giving more room to the three main instruments.
Although the set list is impressive, it might ultimately work against the band. The main problem with this show is its "been there, done that" flavor. I'm sure these three guys have played these songs countless times, so it's no surprise that here they're relatively lifeless. Despite the impressive fretwork on display, none of the songs catch fire. It's not quite as bad as watching karaoke versions of your favorite ZZ Top songs, but the show did occasionally make me want to turn off the Blu-ray player and fire up the original CD. The lack of fire in this show is even more upsetting given that ZZ Top built its reputation on stellar live shows, and this is its first official live document (Fandango! excepted). To the band's credit, the audience (what we can see of them) seems to really be into it.
Whether you enjoy the show or not, this Blu-ray disc looks and sounds fantastic. While this may not be the flashiest ZZ Top stage configuration ever, the video captures every nuance of the hot-rodded stage. You can even see individual hairs in Dusty's and Billy's beards for that "you are there" look. The audio is likewise impressive, with a clarity and fidelity that I found surprising. Considering ZZ Top's fame as a loud band, I was expecting a slightly more muddy sound, especially at the high end. The bottom end (another of the band's strengths) had a lot of oomph as well.
The extras are not extensive, but they offer a bit of novelty. We get a view of the boys playing poker and discussing their history. We also get some behind-the-scenes footage from the day of the show, as well as some footage from a photo shoot. Finally, we get a live version of "Foxey Lady" that's strictly by the numbers. These are probably worth a watch, but are low on replay value. There's also a booklet with an essay by Tom Vickers that gives a brief history of the band and a description of this show. As a bonus, it's nice, but a more substantive booklet would have been appreciated.
Your interest in ZZ Top: Live from Texas will be determined by what you seek. If you want a concert that pushes the nostalgia button, offering renditions of ZZ Top's biggest hits in a slick package, then this Blu-ray disc will likely serve you well. If, on the other hand, you're looking for an example of the band at its fiery best, then this disc will likely disappoint. Here's hoping ZZ Top's next live release will be found a little deeper in the vaults.
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