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The Moving Sidewalks, ‘The Complete Moving Sidewalks’ – Album Review

Moving Sidewalks
Rockbeat Records

Those looking for insight into what originally sparked the ZZ Top phenomena won’t get much help from this comprehensive look into Billy Gibbons’ predecessor band, the Moving Sidewalks.

The double-disc ‘Complete Moving Sidewalks,’ instead, works more as a late-’60s psychedelic garage-rock curio for only the most dedicated fan, especially at the beginning.

Disc one (which includes all of the Moving Sidewalks’ 1968 debut ‘Flash’), in fact, sounds like what it is: an embryonic talent still trying to shake off his primary influences (in this case, Jimi Hendrix, the clear impetus for tracks like ‘Joe’s Blues’ and ‘Pluto-Sept. 31st’), while indulging in the hipster genre exercises of the day.

All of the tricks of the post-’Sgt. Pepper’ trade are on display – from disjointed audio fades, to backwards-looped vocals to (on the album-closing ’Eclipse’ and ‘Reclipse’)  a verite sound collage straight out of the Beatles’ ‘Revolution No. 9.’ Only ‘You Make Me Shake’ aspires to the visceral thump of Gibbons’ subsequent, far more celebrated career as a Rasputin-beard sporting, furry-guitar-spinning purveyor of salacious Texas blues.

Unfortunately, the Moving Sidewalks never got a chance to grow past their youthful missteps on ‘Flash.’ Keyboardist Tom Moore and bassist Don Summers were drafted into the Vietnam conflict before the album ever appeared. Gibbons went on to form ZZ Top with Mitchell and keyboardist Lanier Grieg, though they were ultimately replaced by Frank Beard and Dusty Hill.

Dig deeper into ‘The Complete Moving Sidewalks,’ however, and its rarities-packed second disc nearly makes up for the dated trinkets scattered about their initial project. These stand-alone singles and demos boast none of the studio trickery that mars the ‘Flash,’ and that imbues these sides with a far more interesting, almost proto-punk feel.

There is an romping, unfettered energy about the organ-driven, hometown hit ’99th Floor,’ and a whiff of the biker bar-rattling blues rock to come on ‘Help Me.’ ‘Need Me’ draws a straight line from the sexualized purr of ‘Wild Thing’ to the psychedelic weirdo jangle of the 13th Floor Elevators’ ‘You’re Gonna Miss Me.’ They also get the Beatle-y pretensions utterly right on a wackadoo take on ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand,’ which echoes behind drummer Dan Mitchell’s furious fills with an acid-laced wonder. The set then goes even further back, offering recordings of ’99th Floor’ and ‘Stay Away’ from an earlier, still more primitive Gibbons amalgam called the Coachmen.

Even so, these will likely be heard as nothing more than pleasant distractions for anyone other than ZZ Top completists — or those hoping to familiarize themselves with Gibbons’ work here before the Moving Sidewalks reunite for their first gig together in some 45 years this March at the B.B. King Blues Club in New York.

Next: Top 10 ZZ Top Songs

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