Forgive the history lesson to start, but ZZ Top’s Live in Germany 1980 has a bit of a complicated history as it takes place in the wild land known as “European releases”.
The recording is from April 1980 for a TV program in Germany called Rockpalast. This performance was released before on DVD in 2009 as part of a two set called Double Live where it was bundled in with another live performance from 2008. A good chuck of it has been released by the label on YouTube if you want to see more:
In 2011, the show got its own DVD release along with an audio only version on CD. The problem with the CD was that it cut the performance down from its original 22 songs to 15. Personally, I never bothered with it since I already have a
bootleg preservation copy which has the entire show.
At the tail end of 2020, the performance got the vinyl treatment on a two disc set. It was hard for me to find out ahead of time if this was the 22 or 15 song version, but with a pre-order price of $25 and amazon’s return policy, I decided to take the plunge.
When it arrived earlier this month, I could see by the track list that this is indeed the 15 song version. But I have decided to keep it for a few reasons.
For one, the packaging is done really well. The cover image is nothing to write home about, but the photos on the inserts look sharp and I like the wood grain look. The write up on the show inside was definitely authored by someone whose first language is German which has its own charm, and the discs themselves are of the heavy duty 180 grams kind.
The second reason is for the quirky different speed setting on each disc. Disc 1 is set at 45 rpm and Disc 2 is at 33 1/3 rpm. Let me tell ya, discovering this on the fly got some smart cracks out of my wife.
The best reason for me to keep this is the sound quality. I can hear the effort that went into improving the recording after comparing it to the preservation copy. Frank Beard’s drums sound sharp and the vocals for both Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill are more clear. Especially on Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers.
One problem that is carried over from even the DVD is Billy Gibbons guitar in the mix. His lead sounds off mic and hollow. The effect has Dusty’s bass overpowering him at times when he shouldn’t be. A sacrifice for a recording served straight and not doctored by overdubs.
As for the performance itself, 1980 is a really cool time for ZZ Top. They were on the “Expect No Quarter” tour in support of one of their best underdog albums, Degüello. This was also the final era of the band before they reached uber success on MTV by adding synthesizers. This is nothing but the power trio on stage with very little else to help them out.
The setlist does unfortunately cut off tunes like Just Got Paid and Tube Snake Boogie which would have been great inclusions. But you do get some lesser played tracks like Arrested For Driving While Blind, Maniac Mechanic, and Precious and Grace, while the hits are represented well with Jesus Just Left Chicago, La Grange, and Tush.
Rockpalast is a show that takes place all night long with different acts sharing the same stage in shifts. This meant that ZZ Top begin their performance at 4:30AM and somehow still performed with a ton of energy which had the crowd screaming for more by the time they finished it up at 6AM. This has always been a great show to have in the collection, no matter what the format.
Perhaps one day Live in Germany 1980 will get the Blu-ray treatment with the jump in audio quality this vinyl set has, and maybe a full audio soundtrack could accompany it. Until then, not including every song is a bit of a bitter pill to swallow but this is good enough for now.
The music itself: 5/5
‘dem missing track thou: 3/5