CD Review: ZZ Top – Live From Texas (Eagle Records)

When talking about huge rock and roll comebacks, the first name that usually comes up is the band Aerosmith. Most would consider that particular choice as accurate due to the band being one of the ’70’s top attractions and then descending into a shell of iteself with the band’s complete lineup strung out on drugs. Co-leaders singer Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry were even nicknamed “The Toxic Twins” by their friends for their heavy drug use. Perry abandoned the band at one point, which eventually lead to his recovery and later to the reformation of the group. Soon, the entire band was kicking their individual drug habits and within a year or so returned to the charts bigger and better than ever, selling more records and concert tickets in the late ’80’s than they had in their ’70’s heyday.

Yes, that is a huge case for making Aerosmith the number one comeback story in rock.

But ZZTop’s comeback story is also interesting, though they were never beset by the various personal demons plaguing the members of Aerosmith. ZZTop’s original fall in the late ’70’s was more due to consumer’s tastes changing and the band struggling to come up with a more contemporary framework for their boogie blues tunes and hard rock riffs in order to win back old fans and convert new ones. As unlikely as it seems for these grizzled old Texas rockers, it was the MTV video craze which helped them regain their audience. After vanishing for a few years after Deguello, and releasing a way-not-as-popular followup in El Loco during that time that never really caught on, the band found itself at a crossroads. How to make themselves relevant to a public who had went through punk, disco and then new wave? Then, all was clear: use fledgling MTV as a platform to sell records. For their album Eliminator they came back with a new look with two-thirds of the band sporting scraggly beards and instead of making themselves the focal point of their videos, they created storylines featuring younger actors of their prospective audience’s age and cultivated an image of being “mentors” or “helpers” to those characters, who were often looking to find romance or escape humdrum jobs. The gamble paid off and ZZTop became bigger than they ever were, with tons of hits and popular tours.

Eventually, their popularity waned again (as it does with all artists sooner or later) but the band returns to remind fans of their ’70’s and ’80’s hits with this new live album geared towards their biggest hits, ignoring both their early years and their music post-1990’s release Recycler. What you’re getting here, then, is the best-of-the-best with the band showing they can still burn the house down when they want. Lead singer/guitar-slinger Billy Gibbons shows once again why he is one of the most underrated guitar players in rock by playing some of the greasiest licks ever created. Sure, he doesn’t stray too far from the original studio version when he plays live, but hell, those songs were constructed around his soloing ability and why mess with perfection, anyway?

While this CD is certainly not an essential part of the ZZTop canon, it is a fun little live disc that rightly reminds one of how popular ZZTop was for close to 20 years and how they can still burn it down today. Filled with all of their big hits with none of the filler from their early or later periods, the album is a non-stop rock and roll growl-a-thon all the way through and should serve you well should the disc be put on at a party or during a road trip. I mean, each of these songs should be known by heart by anyone you know, or frankly, the persdon isn’t worth knowing. Mindless rockm and roll fun with the emphasis on fun! And, hey, Gibbons guitar licks aren’t nothing to sneeze at either, no matter how many times you’ve heard them. Great stuff!