WEST SEATTLE FILMMAKER TO SCREEN NEW ZZ TOP DOCUMENTARY
West Seattle Filmmaker Jamie Chamberlin’s second ZZ Top-related documentary was released Oct. 20. The 2-DVD set, “Double Down Live,” features the legendary band performing live, peppered with behind-the-scenes footage. The film will be screened at the Feedback Lounge Thursday night, Nov. 12, 7pm and again at 10pm, in conjunction with the West Seattle Art Walk. Admission is free.
To clarify, Disc 1 was not filmed by Chamberlin, but was recorded live in 1980 at the Grugahalle, a large performance hall in Essen, Germany. Chamberlin filmed the hour-long Disc 2 last year while he toured with ZZ Top across the United States and Europe. They perform 11 songs on Disc 2, including “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” “La Grange,” “Hey Joe,” and “Tush.”
“I shot close to 70 shows over the course of 2008, 95-percent shot on one camera,” said Chamberlin, who attended Vancouver Film School and met Billy Gibbons while producing rock segments for Fox-TV. Chamberlin also filmed “Billy F Gibbons: Rock + Roll Gearhead,” based on four days with the ZZ Top band leader.
In the song “La Grange,” the one that goes “haw, haw, haw, haw,” there are close-ups, long shots, Ed Sullivan-esque screaming crowd reaction shots in black-and-white, and even an aerial shot of Gibbons and Hill marching and twanging like two visual puns. Chamberlin may have filmed all these shots in different cities but the musical magic appears to play out in one venue at one time, all seven minutes and 50 seconds of it.
“You look at it and go, ‘How did you do that with just one camera?’” said Chamberlin. “’Hey Joe’ was shot all in one location, but for the other 10 songs I was pulling shots from all different locations. ZZ Top’s stage show is so orchestrated, and they wear the same outfits. When they hit the stage the timeless signature of the songs made my job easier to edit for continuity. But there were variations in their performances’ energy levels and solos.”
The tight orchestration refers to the two bearded sharp-dressed wonders, Gibbons, and his sidekick, Joseph Dusty Hill who does vocals, bass, and keyboards. Chamberlin’s camera has fun as the two strut up and down the stage in near-perfect synchronicity to the drumbeat of Frank Beard, who has no beard.
“My portion of the film is intertwined with interviews conducted in Paris,” said Chamberlin. “You go into song then have this moment with the band talking about touring. I use a lot of B-roll concert footage and a lot of split screen. It adds a more personal layer to the film. Some fans might love it, some might find the backstage moments distracting to follow during a song.
“I wasn’t raised on this style of music,” he recalled. “I grew up in the 80’s in Atlanta and listened to U2, Psychedelic Furs, and REM. ZZ Top earned my respect while reaching into their pre-1980’s catalog and I realized this music goes way beyond anything I was aware of.”
While Chamberlin was thrilled to ride the ZZ Top rollercoaster across the continents, he acknowledged that it took patience in the beginning.
“It’s a tuff niche market,” he said. “You have to instill trust in the artist for him to even want to have you in the room. Usually that begins as a friendship, then bleeds over into a professional relationship. My hope is to continue documenting ZZ Top as they head into the studio early next year to record new songs.”
Chamberlin gives a tip of his hat to Disc-1. He describes that German concert as a “landmark show” and said that many have seen low-quality bootlegged copies of copies of that show, while this video has been remastered and is high quality.
“We’ve done big productions here before, but this is the first time we will put some real thought into this screening the way it should be done,” said Feedback Lounge co-owner Jeff Gilbert, who grew up on Alki and drives the same 1973 Nova he’s had for years. “We’ll try to get a state-of-the-art projector, screen, and a sound system to cut above ambient noise without killing you with volume.”
Gilbert recalled a ZZ Top production involving them lugging around 75 tons of equipment, including animals native to Texas.
“I saw ZZ Top in ’75 here at the Coliseum,” enthused Gilbert. “It was the ‘Worldwide Texas Tour” and they brought out live farm animals, a bull, horse and rattlesnake. I’ve seen some of Jamie’s film. I love the intimacy it has that brings out the essence of ZZ Top.”