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Non-Prog CD Reviews

ZZ Top

Live From Texas

Review by Gary Hill

I remember seeing ZZ Top on the Eliminator tour. I was very disappointed. The sound was flat and they just seemed bored. Well, if this show had been the one I’d seen I would have had a completely different experience. The boys show that they can rock with the best of them. Their brand of blues dominated Texas boogie is strong, but it seems to revel in the live performance here. Every song gets reworked and expanded on. The MTV era stuff is better here sans the ‘80’s studio refinements. This set (along with the companion DVD) has me wanting to give ZZ Top another shot in concert. I’m guessing a saw a bad show – or tour. The one captured here is just about amazing.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 6 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Got Me Under Pressure
The intro music had me thinking I’d put in a Rush live disc, but when they power out into the song there’s no question that this the little ole band from Texas. I’ve never liked the MTV era stuff as much as the older ZZ Top jams, but this takes on a more vintage ZZ sound here. It’s a great opener. The extended Texas boogie jam is a nice touch. So is the guitar solo segment that comes later.

Waitin' for the Bus
Now we’re into the old school ZZ Top jams. This Tejas grind is meaty and tasty and works really well here. The guitar solo takes on an almost Hendrix-like texture.

Jesus Just Left Chicago
Just as in the studio version, this comes straight out of the last number. It’s got a lot more pure blues texture in this rendition. We also get a bit of an alteration in the vocal presence. There’s some killer guitar soloing on this, too. All of these things work together to make this live rendition blow doors off of its studio predecessor. As good as it was in that original incarnation, that says a lot.

I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide
The more bluesy nature continues here, although a bit less in evidence. This is pretty straightforward and fairly faithful to the studio rendition. It’s a great rocker in any incarnation. The extended jam later in the track is incredible and I love the augmented bass presence on it.

Cheap Sunglasses
There’s always been a real “wall of sound” texture to this track. They preserve that here while the great boogie just kills. The backing vocals seem a bit over the top and the slower segment is a bit different that what I’m used to, though. The instrumental/guitar solo segment just scorches. The closing jam has some percussion that’s a bit too far up in the mix, but the slowed down section here is killer.

Pearl Necklace
With an extended introduction they fire out into this double-entendre laden number. It’s a strong cut and perhaps one of the most faithful renditions here.

Just Got Paid
This is perhaps the least like the studio version. They lead it off with a pure blues jam and the whole track seems re-envisioned. I personally like this slide guitar heavy rendition better than the studio take. There’s an incredible extended jam mid-song that just plain screams.
Rough Boy
If there were a track here I could live without, this would be it. Has anyone ever noticed how much this sounds like 38 Special? This isn’t terrible, but it is a little schmaltzy. I suppose if you look at it as some variety it’s a good thing.

Blues Intro
After a spoken interlude the guitar fires out and we are lead into the blues with this appropriately titled tune. At only a little over a minute in length, this doesn’t outwear its welcome.

Blue Jean Blues
Here we get a smoking blues masterpiece. This is just one of the coolest blues tunes you’ll hear since “The Thrill Is Gone.” It’s a highlight of the CD.

Gimme All Your Lovin'
Another from the MTV years, this one is lead off here by a drum solo. The song gets a better working here, minus all the studio textures. It’s got a meaner feel to it and the extended guitar solo is another tasty one.

Sharp Dressed Man
They continue with the same era of the band’s history. Once again the tune is made into a much more rocking jam.  It’s really all in the delivery. This is another point, though, where the backing vocals seem a bit too far up in the mix. The bass heavy extended excursion later in the piece is killer.

Legs
The final piece from the MTV era, this track was always one of the best of the bunch. I think that’s because the classic ZZ Top sound was more prominent. Well, the extended jam that this is made into is one of the highlights of the show. I like this a lot.
Tube Snake Boogie
This screamer isn’t a lot different from the studio rendition. It’s always been a fun little jam and this version lives up to that. They do add a little singalong section in the middle of this, though. There’s also a cool blues guitar segment towards the end.

La Grange
A full-fledged ZZ Top classic, I’ve always loved the vocal line on this. Well, OK, I’ve always loved the song period! It’s made into one heck of a cool jam here. They extend the track out with some serious bluesy boogie jamming. In fact, approaching the eight minute mark, this is the longest track on the disc. They work through a number of intriguing changes and added goodies.

Tush
Here’s another total ZZ killer classic. You just can’t go wrong with that and the boys put in a screaming version. It can’t imagine a better way to end this.
 
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