Sound: When ZZ Top took the stage in 1980 at the Grugahalle in Essen, Germany, the Little Ol' Band From Texas was at the top of its game. Little did they know, that they still had at least three decades (and probably many more) ahead of them to perform their trademark blues rock music. ZZ Top's new DVD Double Down Live is a veritable before-and-after style of filmmaking, and it provides a fascinating and overall entertaining look at the band's stage show from two perspectives. The two-disk DVD features two eras of performance: the first being the 1980 show at the Grugahalle, while the second disk is a mix of clips from the band's 2008 tour. While there are distinct differences in the energy level, as one might expect from a band is now almost 30 years older, Double Down Live is an essential purchase for anyone who has an appreciation for the rich history of ZZ Top.
Interestingly enough, quite a few of the band's hits from the 1980's are missing from the DVD set (namely Legs and Sharp Dressed Man), but this obviously was to keep things consistent. Double Down Live outlines what changes have been made to the ZZ Top stage show and you get to see how Tush, Waitin' For The Bus, or Just Got Paid have evolved. The first DVD is an absolute blast from the past, with Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Beard following a more free-form (and incredibly energetic) style to the stage show. It's just a fascinating trip, particularly considering that just a few years later there would be a much more rehearsed/choreographed approach. Highlights on the first 22-song DVD include the tight vocal interchange between Hill and Gibbons on Beer Drinkers & Hell Raisers, a highly impressive solo in La Grange, and pretty much every ad libbed line from Gibbons (of course, Have Mercy makes many an appearance). One thing hasn't changed, though the trio has possessed an undeniable sense of fashion throughout each decade.
The second disk presents ZZ Top in more of a polished way and a lot of the energy has diminished, but Gibbons' soloing is still a force with which to be reckoned. There's about half as many songs featured on disk two, but standouts are a powerful rendition of Jimi Hendrix's Hey Joe and, once again, an awesome La Grange medley. The combined disks add up to about 150 minutes of music, which is a pretty satisfying amount of concert footage for any fan. // 10
Content: With two disks of live concert footage, this is a release that doesn't skimp on the musical content. There are 33 songs in all, with some quirky moments weaved into the mix. The first disk shows the moments when ZZ Top heads back to their dressing rooms during the encores, while the second disk weaves in brief vignettes where the band is being interviewed by a French reporter. The questions seem pretty straightforward and basic, but Billy Gibbons always has a way of making his answers seem profound. When the reporter asks how the band would define the blues, Gibbons responds with an unlikely answer. I think the word is to find.' It's in the airIt's still out there. There aren't any extras to speak of, but the concert footage is extensive. // 8
Production Quality: Considering that the first concert is from 1980, the quality is astoundingly good. There aren't any fancy editing techniques and you can tell this is a dated concert, but the audio is perfect. You can hear ever instrument and vocal part crystal clear, while you never lose sight of any prancing/jumping that the band might partake in and yes, they did bounce all over the stage back in the day. The second disk has the streamlined, beautifully edited approach you might see in most music videos these days, with plenty of attention given to close-ups of Gibbons' soloing. // 9
Overall Impression: For as many bells and whistles that are attached to the most current concert footage, it's the first disk that makes the biggest impression. ZZ Top has been around so long that at times you forget what exactly occurred during their performances around the release of Deguello. Double Down Live is a DVD focused primarily on the band' material written prior to 1980, so just be aware that all the 80's hits are missing in action. With 22 songs on the first disk alone, however, the feeling of being stiffed is never really a consideration. // 9