If you were a teen in the early '80s and watching MTV (and who wasn't?), you have undoubtedly seen just about every ZZ Top video a few thousands times. Though not regarded as being up there with Madonna and Duran Duran as true "video pioneers," ZZ Top are still, along with white-bread artists like Huey Lewis & the News, one of the few rock bands to have truly exploited the medium to achieve mega-stardom. Songs like "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man" were MTV staples, and more importantly, gave a more or less faceless band (well, except for those beards) an identity in the world of Top 40 radio.
Since then, it's fair to say that ZZ Top's fortunes as a mainstream act haven't been quite so lucky. After the ten-times-platinum "Eliminator" album (from which "Legs" and "Sharp Dressed Man" were culled), their follow-up albums sold progressively less, and by the end of the '80s, both MTV and the kids of America had transitioned to hair metal and then, eventually, grunge. ZZ Top is arguably a nostalgia act now, the kind of band you go to see at festivals and such to hear all the old hits, not the new stuff.
'ZZ Top: Live in Texas' documents a stop on the band's recent tour, which didn't support their most recent album (2003's "Mescalero") so much as showcase a hodgepodge of their back catalogue. The set list is a pretty predictable selection of more recent tunes (go make some popcorn), which segues into a second-half parade of their radio-friendly hits. Almost like a steamroller of '80s anthems, the band saves the expected big guns for the end, churning through tunes like "Gimme All Your Lovin'," "Sharp Dressed Man" and "Legs" one-after-the-other, and then offering up an encore of "La Grange" and "Tush." That makes 'Live in Texas' rather bottom-heavy for all but diehard fans, though all that much easier to program if you have your remote handy.
Visually, the band has wisely employed a strong behind-the-scenes team to lend some nifty visuals to their static on-stage presence. The two bearded ones (Billy Gibson and Dusty Hill) flank the the beard-less drummer (named, ironically enough Frank Beard), and unfortunately there is little energy to their performance. The light show and stage sets, though not extravagant, do boast a cool LCD screen and electric colors, which at least excite the eye. With the band's moves limited to some swaying back and forth, even all the cutting to the screaming fans in the audience can't keep the pace from flagging. 'Live in Texas' felt a bit like a club show to me, albeit a club show with a spiffy lighting rig.
Like most concert films, 'Live in Texas' is not likely to convert any new fans to the great bearded ones, but it delivers exactly what the band's dedicated core following will want, and there are still enough hits here that it's worth giving a spin if you're in the mood for a little '80s nostalgia (Texas-fried style). I wish the band was perhaps a bit more animated and that the stage show wasn't so overwhelming, but 'Live in Texas' shows off ZZ Top in fine form.
The 17-song track list includes: 01. Got Me Under Pressure / 02. Waitin' for the Bus / 03. Jesus Just Left Chicago / 04. I'm Bad, I'm Nationwide / 05. Pin Cushion / 06. Cheap Sunglasses / 07. Pearl Necklace / 08. Heard It On the X / 09. Just Got Paid / 10. Rough Boy / 11. Blue Jean Blues / 12. Gimme All Your Lovin' / 13. Sharp Dressed Man / 14. Legs / 15. Tube Snake Boogie / 16. La Grange / 17. Tush
Eagle Rock presents 'ZZ Top: Live from Texas' in 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 video, at 1.78:1. Though some may complain about the "i" instead of "p" in the spec, this transfer looks great.
Captured entirely with HD cameras and freshly recorded in 2007, 'Live in Texas' is crisp and colorful. Blacks are excellent and contrast is well modulated, so bright scenes don't look too bright while darker areas of the picture still boast clearly visible detail. The stage set (which more or less approximates a giant hot rod) boasts a cool LCD backdrop and vigorous lighting, with colors rich and clean throughout. I was always impressed by depth and detail, as well as the lack of any major compression issues and noise. I did notice the occasional motion jaggie, though that's only a minor nitpick. 'Live in Texas' is sure to please.
Three audio options are offered: English DTS-HD Lossless Master Audio 5.1 Surround (48kHz/24-bit), English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (640kbps) and PCM 2.0 Stereo (48kHz/24-bit/2.3mbps). The DTS-HD and PCM are clearly the way to go, and either is a fine choice.
I'm not generally a huge fan of 5.1 mixes of live events, because either the rears are reserved simply for crowd ambiance (which quickly becomes a white noise source), or instruments are directed to the back speakers, which is hardly a realistic presentation of the actual experience. So strictly in terms of sheer dynamics, the DTS-MA and PCM tracks are both winners. The recording is very polished, with strong low bass that gives the subwoofer plenty of work to do, while overall frequency response is hefty across the board. Vocals, if a bit muddled in delivery (I'm not sure the members of ZZ Top have aged like fine wine when it comes to their singing skills) are balanced perfectly well and the mix feels organic and natural. The DTS-MA mix does boast a prominent and consistent level of audience participation in the surrounds, but again, it didn't add much to the overall listening experience for me. As with the video, fans should be more than pleased with both mixes.
Like most music releases on Blu-ray, supplements for 'Live in Texas' are not comparable to a theatrical title but they're at least somewhat unusual. Eagle Rock presents all of the material in full 1080i/AVC MPEG-4 video. (Subtitles on all extras include English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, German and Netherlands.)
'ZZ Top: Live in Texas' is a perfectly fine document of a recent stop on the band's 2007 tour. This concert is unlikely to make any new converts out of non-fans, but the faithful will certainly dig it. This Blu-ray is easy to dig, too, with very sharp video and audio, and a few cool supplements. Well worth a look for fans.