ZZ Top: Live From Texas Blu-ray ReviewJune 05, 2008
ZZ Top has beards and they know how to use them. They also have the same lineup of guitarist Billy F Gibbons, bassist Dusty Hill and drummer Frank Beard as when they first began playing together almost 40 years ago, an unprecedented and unmatched feat in the cutthroat music business.
For all those decades of rocking Texas southern style, the men with beards have never appeared on a concert home video. The release of ZZ Top: Live from Texas on Blu-ray Disc aims to fix this major Hall of Fame musical oversight, in glorious high definition and immersive lossless audio, no less.
ZZ Top’s 2007-08 tour has them traveling throughout the United States all year so this could have been filmed wherever the band producers felt would have made the most economical sense. Instead, they chose to mark the band’s "coming out" on home video by recording in Dallas, Texas, the unofficial band home. Only in Texas could the crowd be as dedicated and into the performance as they are, and it shows in their exuberant joyous reactions as each song cues up.
Like most concerts for bands that have been around for a minimum of 30 years, Live From Texas offers a balanced mix of old classics from the 70s, MTV hits from the 80s, and newer, lesser known songs. The set has been logically arranged in reverse order for the most part with the newer songs leading off, the MTV songs my generation grew up watching and listening to in music videos in the middle, and the older La Grange and Tush songs bringing the show to a close. This structure makes sense to take advantage of building momentum with better songs as the show goes on. They even arranged Gimme All Your Lovin’, Sharp Dressed Man and Legs back-to-back, which is a perfect setup to easily listen to all without interruption on Blu-ray via the track selection menu.
The complete track list is as follows:
I realized while watching Live in Texas that my mind is so in-tune with the 80s ZZ Top songs and, to a lesser extent, the 70s songs, that I found myself unimpressed with the newer stuff. A lack of familiarity may play a hand in that assessment. Or I was so excited to hear the endless guitar riffs in Rough Boy for the first time in 20 years that I didn’t really care.
Even after all these years, the band that proclaimed their music sounds like "four flat tires on a muddy road" still knows how to put on a good show, furry guitars for Legs and all. The sound may be a little different as the songs have been tweaked and refined with age and their fingers may not be able to keep up with the younger generation of strummers, but the core soulful melodies and peaceful ZZ Top stage presence continues to be second to none.
The solid ZZ Top: Live in Texas show is backed by a worthy simple yet effective Blu-ray Disc package from Eagle Rock Entertainment. The menu system is designed to act like an overlaying ticket stub with selections marked as the stub’s text. It is fun to access during the show as Blu-ray allows the stub to fly in from the right in dramatic fashion.
Concerts shot within the past few using high definition cameras are usually a treat on Blu-ray Disc and this AVC MPEG-4 encoded 1080p presentation is hands down no exception, despite running between 12 and 20mpbs. Black levels are put to the test early and often under the pulsing stage lights and barely lit audience and they come out dark and unscathed. Close-ups of the band are even better looking at light shimmers on the guitars and drum kit. Even when the camera catches a spotlight dead on there’s no posterization or bleeding along the edges. If there were critters living in Billy or Dustin’s beards you’d certainly be able to spot them.
Eagle Rock offers up a trio of audio options on Live From Texas, but you only need to take notice of the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and LPCM 2.0 stereo track. Both are exceptionally clean and powerful with the DTS-HD track running at 5mbps impressing me more because I prefer to be surrounded by the music and fan noise rather than having it come at me from one direction. In that sense, this 5.1 mix has been properly balanced to make use of the entire soundstage that rarely gives the surrounds a rest.
The supplemental features may add up to only a little over a half hour, but they’re priceless to ZZ Top faithful and every one of them is presented in 1080p HD.
Poker Game (18:42) – With no introduction or voiceover, this featurette jumps into a poker match with ZZ Top as they tell stories about the good old days. There’s far more talking than playing; in fact, this casual get together the most I’ve heard any one of them talk at once. The only buzz killer comes from the director choosing to experiment with artistic camera moves and dramatic shots through furniture that ruin the mood.
Dallas Show Day (6:46) – This brief yet active featurette jumps throughout the arena as the crew, band and audience get ready for the show. There’s a quick side piece that examines the creation of Billy’s guitar, and a few eye-opening shots of crew members spotting the most well endowed women in the audience they can. I wouldn’t be surprised if the "boys" put them up to that.
Photo Shoot (4:41) – The weakest of the supplementals follows the band on a photo shoot somewhere in backwoods Texas. It’s more candid than insightful that sinks in as feeling a lot longer than its sub-five minute runtime.
Foxey Lady (4:33) – The final supplement is the strangest because it appears plucked from the live performance, yet I can’t figure out where it was supposed to fit in. ZZ Top plays a good Hendrix and this should absolutely been kept as part of the show.
ZZ Top fans have been waiting for this release for as long as home video has existed. For them, and everyone else, the good news is I expect it to rock their socks off. More good news is Eagle Rock has nailed another concert on Blu-ray Disc, leaving me antsy to dive into the next and likely pushing hoards of ZZ Top faithful to consider picking up a Blu-ray player to experience the best presentation available.
- Dan Bradley
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ZZ Top: Live From Texas
June 24, 2008