Live In Germany 1980

ZZ Top

Eagle Rock, 2011

http://www.zztop.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/27/2011

In 1980, ZZ Top were experiencing a rebirth of sorts. Although still a few years away from superstardom, they had taken time after the disappointment of 1976’s Tejas album to recharge their personal batteries, returning in 1979 with the strong effort Deguello. Having spent their career to that point trying to conquer the United States, Billy Gibbons and crew turned their attention to a new target: Essen, Germany, and the Rockpalast television show.

 

Live In Germany 1980, the soundtrack from that show (and is an abbreviated version of what you will find on the Double Down Live DVD set), is a snapshot of that second chapter in ZZ Top’s career – and while the musicianship is good, the set lacks an air of excitement for the listener.

 

Gibbons, Dusty Hill and Frank Beard pound their way through this set, taking little to no time to catch their breaths or interact with the audience. About the only time there is any interaction with the crowd is on “Fool For Your Stockings,” where Gibbons goes into a discussion of different crosses one can bear. Funny – for a group who did so little talking to the audience, at the end I almost found myself wishing that Gibbons would have let his guitar do the talking this time.bim_ad_daily_vault_print_250

The biggest obstacle that ZZ Top has is the fact they are a three-piece band. As such, they are not able to do the kind of layering of instruments that the freedom of the studio allows them. So, when the listener hears songs like “La Grange” or “Waitin’ For The Bus,” losing the rhythm guitar track so that Gibbons can solo is noticeable. Is this bad? No, not necessarily – but it does create a different sound to the song that listeners might not be accustomed to hearing.

The one criticism that I have with Live In Germany 1980 is that, based on audio alone, there isn’t a whole lot of excitement in the delivery of these songs. For a band attempting to conquer new territories outside of their home base, that’s a bit off-putting – but, then again, X amount of ZZ Top’s appeal has always been their visual image, and without that, it’s easy to understand why this might not seem as special on the surface.

This, by the way, is not a knock on the concert as a whole. I can understand why the band would be blazing through such a set, knowing the limitations of television. And, yes, I admit it’s fun hearing songs like “Manic Mechanic” performed live, as well as others that, to the best of my knowledge, don’t get the kind of attention they should nowadays, such as “Lowdown In The Street” and “Precious And Grace”. (The liner notes, by the way, insinuate that all but one song from Deguello was played in the setlist. This is true – “Esther Be The One” got dropped – but all the songs are not included on this disc, so that’s a little misleading.)

Live In Germany 1980 is an interesting, if mildly flawed, portrait of ZZ Top enjoying a renaissance of sorts, yet still searching for the superstardom that they’d find four short years later. But it also demonstrates the limitations of the live album – namely, that you can’t capture all of the power and emotion simply through what you hear. Anyone who has Double Down Live on DVD might find purchasing this redundant – or, who knows, maybe they’ll want this abbreviated setlist to keep in their cars.

Rating: B-

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© 2011 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Eagle Rock, and is used for informational purposes only.