Venue: B.B. King Blues Club (New York, NY)
Opener: Jimmy Kunes
Label: Mayhem Records
To many music fans the name of the band Zebra remains a mystery and I feel bad for them based on just how much enjoyment I have gotten from their material and live shows over the years. Originally formed in New Orleans way back in 1975, the band eventually moved to New York and ruled the club circuit of Long Island before releasing their self-titled debut on Atlantic Records. The three piece unit no longer plays together as often as they used to but when shows do take place you can count on them being a rousing affair that finds latecomers often being turned away depending on what venue the show is happening at. Tonight Zebra would return to B.B. King Blues Club and bring along as a special guest opener Jimmy Kunes who many Classic Rock fans might remember as the singer for Cactus these days. This would be my last show for the year and what an amazing run of events it had been when I sat and reflected on it. Here is how the evening played out in case you missed it.
Kunes would start off at 8pm exact and perform acoustically with song-writing partner Gus Fafalios. Each of them would sit on stools and just keep it to the simple basics by delivering some smooth blues-tinged covers and a couple of original compositions. His original stuff had a nice sound to it but would largely be new to the crowd here this evening and yet despite this they seemed to receive him well. I enjoyed it and would catch him again in perhaps another setting but had to say my own personal highlight would be his rendition of “Too Hot To Handle” by UFO. That was a smart selection because it prompted the audience to help sing along with the chorus. I imagine that he played for about thirty minutes and I wish him well with his solo efforts. We’ll get to see him performing with Cactus on this same stage in May. Now it was time for Zebra.
Since the band’s formation they have released four full studio albums, a couple of live recordings and a greatest hits package. The fourth studio album came out a few years ago and continued the bands fine tradition of delivering classic Hard Rock with a very distinct sound and drive. Tonight the band would open with “As I Said Before”, and this is often their lead off number in terms of gigs. From the moment they began the audience was quickly aware of how good this band still sounds in the live sense. Clearly Randy Jackson has some of the best pipes in the business and they don’t seem to have suffered much in the thirty plus years he has been singing with this band. With four studio releases under their belt the band would have a lot of great stuff to deliver to the crowd, which even though were seated for this show, were surely rocking in place and found among its number those who would rise for applause and to cheer the band on with great excitement. I almost expected this to be the case and I was actually glad to find it being so, but the band would do plenty of material from their debut album from 1983. I have to say that if you are a fan of a very classic Rock & Roll sound with a tight Progressive and Melodic edge to it, then you need to purchase this debut somehow. It’s still easy to find on outlets like Amazon.com and often the band brings them to shows so the fans can make a quick purchase. Of the nine songs on this particular album the band would play no less than seven of its tunes. I have to say that no matter how much I hear this recording it never fails to impress me. My hope is that we find a smart record company executive realizing that this release can use a remastering with some additional tracks and historical liner notes. You might chuckle at the idea but let’s face it some seriously odd things have been given the once over and upgraded and if they make the cut why no do the same for a talented group like Zebra.
My favorites fell primarily to the first album tracks and songs like “Wait Until The Summer’s Gone” and “Arabian Nights” and I guess my only complaint would be the omission of “Bears” this evening since it’s such a great track. They’ve played it at other shows I’ve enjoyed so it didn’t bother me all that much when it came down to it. We got a great drum solo from Guy Gelso who is a powerhouse and very fluid on the kit. He sports a headset microphone to help out with the backing vocals along with Felix Hanneman who seemed to have no problem delivering the goods on either bass guitar or keyboards as is par for the course for him. After a rousing “Tell Me What You Want” both Felix and Guy would leave Randy on the stage to his own devices and he would do a brief acoustic guitar solo before he kicked into “Time” and then “Who’s Behind The Door”. Soon they would play “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” which would signal the end of the main portion of the show. This song is a classic without question and was even covered by Dream Theatre on their latest album bonus tracks. This left the audience with a solid two hour performance and it was not over yet because in a couple of more minutes they would kick into gear with a brief Led Zeppelin set. Randy’s voice is perfect for the Robert Plant stuff and he can still hit all of those high register notes to the tee. The Zep set featured a number of the expected tunes like “Immigrant Song” and “Rock & Roll” but I found myself more impressed with their rendition of “What Is And What Should Never Be” and “Kashmir” because these absolutely killed. After hearing them do this kind of set once again I had to say that it would be great to find the band recording a full CD of this material so more of their fans can get to enjoy it. With a number of these kind of albums out there already I think a Zebra “Tribute To Led Zeppelin” release would be awesome to add to the collection.
After what appeared to be forty five minutes of astounding Led Zeppelin renditions Zebra would call it a night but not before Randy would inform us that Felix’s band Hindenburg would be coming out to keep the Zep vibe going for a little while longer. Felix’s band does a great job of delivering the Led Zep groove and I expected as much since he himself is so adept at it from first doing it with Zebra. The band also features Karl Cochran on lead guitar and he is a musician that has worked with more bands than I can count. They didn’t play all too long and among their numbers were “The Lemon Song”, “Bring It On Home” and “The Wanton Song”. Maybe sometime in the New Year I will try to catch a full set of theirs because I know they play around quite a bit.
I had to say that this was a supremely fun way to close out my Metal and Hard Rock concert year because I not only did it by enjoying a great band with some fun friends but I also managed to convince three visiting Dutch tourists who we met at the bar beforehand to come along and Rock out with us. The visitors trusted our judgment and praise for the band and I had to say that Mark, Marten and Schoerd all seemed to enjoy themselves very much. They would be braving the cold for New Year’s Even in Times Square and what better way to prepare oneself for that kind of fun than a kick ass Rock and Roll show. Happy trails travelers and a very Happy New Year to all of you. We’ll see you in 2010 that is for sure. January was only days away and already had a number of incredible shows listed for us all to attend.
Jimmy Kunes Set List:
1. What You Will
2. Too Hot To Handle (UFO)
3. Wild Dogs (Tommy Bolin)
4. Cross To Bear
5. One Part Of Me
6. Crossroads/4 O`Clock In The Morning (Robert Johnson/B.B. King)
7. Now She’s Gone
Zebra Set List:
1. As I Said Before
3. My Life Has Changed
4. Drive Me Crazy
5. Wait Until The Summer’s Gone
6. No Tellin’ Lies
7. Arabian Nights
8. La La Song
9. Guy Gelso Drum Solo
10. He’s Making You The Fool
11. Don’t Walk Away
12. Tell Me What You Want
15. Who’s Behind The Door
16. One More Chance
17. Take Your Fingers From My Hair
18. The Rover
19. Over The Hills And Far Away
20. Celebration Day
21. What Is And What Should Never Be
22. Immigrant Song
23. Rock and Roll
We scanned the B.B. King’s announcement card that they were leaving out for the tourists and other curious passerby as we liked the look of it. Mark our words that Zebra is a band worth seeing and should you see this familiar image in your travels around Times Square NYC be sure to stop and read what it says so you don’t miss out.
I mention in the context of the narrative’s closing about how while we were pre-gaming for this show at Smiths with Rich Lynch and Missus of Kweevak.com that we started some musical discussions with a trio of visiting Dutch tourists. After a few beers and many laughs, along with a sampling of Zebra music from my Zune player the guys opted to join us at the show. This would clearly be a night that they never forgot since they had such a great time. Thanks Kweevak for the shot, next time make sure no one’s head is blocking someone else’s face. LOL