The “Real Life” of the Texas Band
We're going on a trip. From Las Vegas to Berlin, with stops at Nashville, Chicago, Vancouver, Paris, Rome,...ZZ Top will take us on their first “official” live record -they say-, as if it matters. We've had to wait nearly a half-century, but here it is, the legendary Texas rockers will perform their greatest hits, or at least a chunk of them, unfettered by the firewall of the recording studio.
The official promo for the record makes clear, according to Billy Gibbons himself, that this is the “real life of ZZ Top”, for the most part on the road, shedding their skin in each show. “This is the definitive chronicle of a band that for 4 de luxe decades have simply done what they wanted to do.” A portrait of wrinkles, or creases , whichever you like, of 3 men, 40 years later, still having as much fun as they did from day one.
So this is about listening to our beloved bearded heroes in their element; sizzling of course. The first thing to catch our eye, or ear rather, is the sound, a production that manages to bring together quality and crisp rawness, even with respect to the screechy outbursts of the 3 musicians - and a team of highly trained engineers- making the most of the first bars of each gig, tinkering with volume and texture levels, to assure the amps don't sound too canned or tinny.
The guitar, bass and drums are all cranked to full volume, with Dusty Hill ́s bass busting a gut while Frank Beard is doing the same on the skins..until the Gibson of Billy Gibbons - with the permission of Gretsch Bo Didley - takes over in the first lick and it all falls into place as your body leaves you bouncing to the boogie- boogie of Got Me Under Pressure.
Pure presence. ZZ Top is a well oiled machine that Gibbons tunes to his taste. The live performances sound almost identical to the originals, but just almost , the rest is given by this legend of the 6-chord licks, with a flash of technique that would blow, if not for the spirit of blues and rock that courses through their veins. Especially when you're well on the road to 70 years young eh.
Blues is precisely what is missing in this “definitive chronicle”. The Texans wanted to make something that rocks, from top to bottom, skirting a genre/style in which they have had some real gems, but instead go for the glory that carries them to the undisputable ”number #1s”. The only single exception is Rough Boy, a number they couldn't leave out, nor their old friend Jeff Beck, the faithful right-hand-man in hundreds of shows. They dedicate a special homage to him with the power classic Sixteen Tons.
The other “but” that one could attribute the first “Live” of ZZ Top is that the repertoire, or setlist, makes you think that this “real life” of which Gibbons speaks, was over in 1994, with the marvellous Pincushion de Antenna. Unless they are cooking up a second instalment in the likely near future. In which case, we hope, the first chapter of the “chronicle” live of ZZ Top is, of course, the insurmountable Eliminator (1983).
Gibbons then, is wrong. For this chronicle isn't finished yet.
(All Images ©CordonPress)