Every fan of ZZ Top knows a live performance from this group will always be reliable rockin’ good fun. You know you’ll get your money’s worth. For one thing, look up the word “tight” in your Funk & Wagnalls (does that dictionary still exist?) and you’ll see the smiling faces of Billy Gibbons, Dusty Hill, and Frank Lee Beard. After all, the same three guys have been playing the same three chords for all they’re worth since 1970.
But as Live At Montreux 2013 (now out on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital formats) demonstrates, ZZ Top likes to vary the menu of its appetizers and main courses for its audiences. They certainly have a deep catalogue to draw from, so any disappointment isn’t about what they do play, but any favorites they didn’t have time to squeeze in. Sure, they gotta play the obligatory “Gimme Some Lovin’,” “Legs,” “Got Me Under Pressure,” and “Sharp Dressed Man” from 1983’s Eliminator. They gotta play samples from the pre-synthesizer period. The Montreux crowd, and now us, got the medley of “Waitin’ For The Bus”/”Jesus Just Left Chicago” from Tres Hombres (1973). The band saves three of the good ole ones for the Montreux encore with 1981’s “Tube Snake Boogie,” a fantastic work-up of “La Grange” (1973), and finally 1975’s “Tush.”
For lovers of more recent work, the Montreux audience got an outstanding rendition of “My Head’s In Mississippi” from Recycler (1990) and the equally infectious “Pincushion” from Antenna (1994). Since 2007, one concert staple has been Jimi Hendrix’s “Foxy Lady,” and this performance includes it as well. Enough hits for you?
In terms of new material, for the 92-minute Montreux show ZZ Top was promoting its 15th studio album, 2012’s La Futura, so they naturally showcased three of those less familiar tracks. Well, the concert audience seemed to know “I Gotsta Get Paid,” which is now one of my ZZ Top favorites, the formulaic “Chartreuse,” and the energetic “Flyin’ High.”
Then, in the middle of the show, Gibbons brought on Austin buddies Mike Flanigin on Hammond B3 organ and Van Wilks on guitar to perform a tribute to the late Montreux Festival founder, Claude Nobs. For two songs you won’t be thinking ZZ Top. The five-piece ensemble gets jazzy and more traditional bluesy with the instrumental, “Kiko.” You might think you went to church with a prog rock outfit before the band and guests get down-and-dirty in “I Loved The Woman.” As it happens, these two numbers are historic as this was the first time the Top ever performed as a quintet. So, even if you’ve not been a ZZ Top completest all these years, there are surprises on this disc to make this addition essential listening.
One advantage to seeing as well as hearing a ZZ Top concert is the group’s use of videos running both behind and beside them on stage. Images are shown on speakers on either side of the group, and a large screen series of pre-made videos and enlarged camera shots of the group in action run throughout all the songs. Unless you’ve seen the show, it really would be a spoiler to tell you what you’ll see except to note that, from the very beginning, ZZ Top is noted for an offbeat sense of humor employing double entendres and innuendo, not to mention a lot of nice girls.
So what’s not to love about Live At Montreux 2013? I can’t think of anything to complain about. This one is a keeper. As Stan Lee used to say, “‘Nuff said.”