ZZ Top: Live at Montreux (2013/14)
There are few bands which equal what Texas blues-rockers ZZ Top have accomplished. The trio—Frank Beard (drums), Billy Gibbons (guitar, vocals) and Dusty Hill (bass, vocals)—has been together for four decades and have sold over 50 million albums worldwide. Their arena-rock, blues-bolstered music is still very popular. Despite the fame and fortune, Gibbons states his most prized items are the posters illustrating ZZ Top’s three visits to Montreux to play the renowned musical festival. The latest stopover was on July 10th, 2013 and once again proved how much the band is respected and well-liked by audiences. ZZ Top prefers a stripped-down presence and, for the most part, that’s what ZZ Top: Live at Montreux 2013 presents: 80 minutes of boogie blues, hard-riffing rock and hard-charging music. No orchestral support; no backing singers; no horn section. The 17-song setlist ranges from early favorites such as “La Grange,” and the two-song medley “Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago” (those three come from 1973’s chart-topping LP Tres Hombres) to fresher cuts such as “I Gotsa Get Paid” and “Chartreuse,” both from the band’s latest studio offering, 2012’s La Futura. ZZ Top: Live at Montreux 2013 was released on both DVD and Blu-ray format, this review refers to the DVD.
ZZ Top opens with the fan fave, “Got Me Under Pressure,” one of several hits from the 1983 multi-platinum-selling album, Eliminator. The main riff is instantly identifiable, and on this rendition, there aren’t any synths or other studio effects: just Beard’s solid, no-frills drumming, Gibbons’ searing licks and Hill’s thudding bass lines. The performance revs up a bit later (after “Waitin’ for the Bus/Jesus Just Left Chicago”), when the threesome kick it up a notch on a scorching, extended take of “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” another huge single from Eliminator. The number is a showcase for Gibbons’ electrifying soloing. Some newer material is also performed, including “I Gotsa Get Paid,” which interestingly is built from a rap song, but retooled to fit ZZ Top’s style: no hip-hop lyrical delivery, but a different kind of backbeat than the typical blues/hard rock arrangement found in most ZZ Top songs.
A noteworthy highlight is a two-tune blues tribute to Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs, who had passed away about six months before this concert. ZZ Top brings out Hammond B-3 player Mike Flanigin (a fellow Texan who has also worked with Jimmie Vaughan among others) and guitarist Van Wilks, a leading Austin artist. The quintet commences with a translation of Jimmy McGriff’s 1963 jazz instrumental, “Kiko,” which has a suitably soulful treatment accentuated by Flanigin’s organ embellishments; and then the blues cut “I Loved the Woman,” based on Freddie King’s early-‘60s gem, “I Love the Woman.” Unfortunately, that’s it. As soon as the crowd gets into this five-person setup, Flanigin and Wilks exit the stage. But the homages are not over. ZZ Top then covers Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxey Lady” (sometimes also spelled as “Foxy Lady”). Although the trio gives it a great groove, they neglect Hendrix’s nuances and details. The remaining performance energetically rushes along with more rousing picks from Eliminator. In a nod to their prominent ‘80s videos, Gibbons and Hill utilize their iconic, fuzz-wrapped guitars during “Legs.” The three-track encore is an apt apex, with lengthy and frenetic runs through older pleasers “Tube Snake Boogie,” “La Grange” and innuendo-inclined “Tush.”
Both the Dolby/DTS audio and high-definition video are superb, which is par for Montreux films. The lighting and multi-camera structure benefits viewers with lots of close-ups (although, strangely, close-ups are nonexistent for some solos), medium shots, and audience footage. The sound options also are rewarding, with Dolby Digital Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 or DTS Surround Sound. The sonic mix promotes ZZ Top’s signature style, with drums, electric bass and guitars upfront and loud. The package has few extras. An eight-page booklet has concert photos and liner notes which re-count the band’s history. There are two short Montreux interviews: a six-minute discussion with Hill and Gibbons about blues influences and how ZZ Top was formed; Gibbons talks about his relationship with Montreux and Nobs in another six-minute segment. There are English, French, Spanish and German subtitles for the interview portions only. ZZ Top: Live at Montreux 2013 is a fine fan film, but is neither definitive nor necessarily the best choice for anyone who wants some live ZZ Top. There are other films also in print, so buyers should check what’s available; read reviews; and figure out what might be the prime bargain. That said, ZZ Top: Live at Montreux 2013 is a worthy addition to any ZZ Top music collection.