Double Down Live finally brings to life ZZ Top's ass-kickin' performance that was filmed for the German TV show Rockpalast back in 1980. Touring in support of their classic Deguello album, these lil' ol' boys from Texas had just entered their prime as they treated the German blues-rockers in the house to some of the most smokin' live performances of their '70's classics that you will ever hear. What a difference 30 years (ago) makes.
After the lackluster Live From Texas DVD of 2008, I was stoked to finally get my hands on some vintage live ZZ Top footage. If you were like me and used to play non-stop air guitar to their Fandango album back in the day, then you'll definitely hear what I'm screamin'. While I certainly appreciate the fact that ZZ Top are still touring and putting out some fairly respectable new material every now and then, their more recent live performances have been a mere slow-motion shadow of their once mighty selves.
Double Down Live features ZZ Top performances from 1980 and 2008, that are each on their own separate DVD. Disc 1, "Definitely Then…1980," was filmed at the Grugahalle in Essen, German for the Rockpalast TV show, and disc 2, "Almost Now…2008," was filmed during the band's European and U.S. tours of 2008. These two contrasting DVDs provide a fascinating comparison of how much this band's performances and stage shows have evolved over the years, while still managing to keep that unique ZZ Top mojo firmly intact.
The 1980 Rockpalast DVD is far and away the highlight of this set, and it is easily worth the purchase price alone. The 22-song, 92-minute set features every song (except one) from their most recent album at the time, Deguello. Along with Tres Hombres (my personal favorite), Deguello is one of the band's standout early albums, with not a weak song to be found. Tres Hombres was also well represented by five songs, and Fandango scored four. This left little room for the band's earliest material, and only the live concert staple, "Just Got Paid", is chosen to represent the band's first two albums. "Tube Snake Boogie," which would not be released until the band's 1981 El Loco album, was previewed to open the encore set, and then "Just Got Paid" tore the roof of the joint to close the show.
During the early years Billy Gibbons mostly used his Gibson '59 sunburst Les Paul, aka "Pearly Gates," through some Marshall amps onstage and his nasty riffs felt like they could cut you in half compared to the more polished sound he produces today. During the last decade Gibbons has stuck mostly to his Gretsch "Billy-Bo" Jupiter Thunderbird guitar, which was based on the original Jupiter Thunderbird given to him by Bo Diddley. He and Dusty Hill's vocals were also noticeably more powerful on these earlier performances, which is to be expected I suppose, since they are both 60 now.
The "Almost Now…2008" disc should have simply been relegated to bonus material status on the main DVD. Sure, you get eleven live performances taken from various stops on the band's 2008 tour, but they are all incessantly interrupted by interview and backstage footage, which makes the damn thing nearly unwatchable. If you go into it with the mindset that you will be watching a tour documentary, instead of a concert, then it might be more tolerable. You're better off just getting the Live From Texas DVD if you are interested in watching a recent ZZ Top concert though.
As would be expected, the production quality is quite different between the two discs. The 1980 concert looks every bit its 30 years age, but the DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio tracks sound stupendous despite of it. The 4:3 video transfer is very grainy and frequently riddled with horizontal banding, but the camera work captured this remarkable performance very well. The 16:9 widescreen transfer on the second disc was only shot on standard video (not HD), and was not anamorphically enhanced, but the incredibly sharp and vivid picture quality left little to complain about. The sounds mixes for this disk were all stellar as well.