Howlin' Wolf

December 03, 2005

I was listening to the new Darkness album as I pulled up to the Howlin' Wolf Saturday night to watch Zebra. So, it didn't take long for me to draw a connection between the voice of Darkness lead singer Justin Hawkins and Zebra lead singer/guitarist Randy Jackson. Both have shrill falsettos that reach as high as high can go, Hawkins operatic a la Freddie Mercury and Jackson out for ear blood a la Plant.

The main difference between the singers, though, is in their approach. The Darkness has been criticized for being a less-than-sincere joke band whose objective is to get rich off of the Spinal Tap(the band, not the movie) in all of us. While The Darkness was cunning in the costumes they chose to wear and the music they chose to play(they used to be a synth pop band), Zebra has worn long permed hair and mullets for the last thirty years. They're in it for the long haul. They must be. How else do you wear a mullet(bassist Felix Hanemann) and permed hair(Jackson) in your late '40's? Don't you hang up the weird hairdos at some point? Or maybe you don't, and maybe that's why Zebra still has a large fanbase in New Orleans. Forty-somethings that remember when Zebra played their prom can take pride that a New Orleans band went gold and is still pumping out their pomp-metal live. For the record, forty-somethings comprised the majority of people at the concert. The only people younger than me were working at the club.

Even though I heard about the show repeatedly through 99.5 WRNO and I knew it was gonna be packed, I wasn't gonna go to the Zebra concert. I grew up thinking of Zebra as a dinosaur act, a joke in the vein of Dokken and Winger that should have died a while ago. But, I met four forty-somethings on Friday night who stopped by The Howlin' Wolf to get Zebra tickets. They were getting drunk, working class, and super nice. Just the kinda people I imagined went to a Zebra concert: those that married their college sweetheart and never moved out of Metairie. One man was very excited about the band and the possiblity of me seeing Zebra, I guess cause I might spread the word to my younger friends and then start a whole new generation of fans. He kept repeating that the band played a better version of "Kashmir" than Zeppelin, and he said he'd buy all my drinks if I went. Unfortunately, Zebra didn't play "Kashmir," and I didn't see the man at the show, but his mention of Zeppelin is a good place to really start this review.

Zebra played "The Immigrant Song," "The Ocean," "Over The Hills and Far Away," "Rock and Roll," and "Heartbreaker." This leads me to believe that Zebra could care less that critics have called them a Zeppelin rip-off. But, it must be said again that they are. There were a few songs that Jackson started by playing solo and soft on his acoustic electric. I didn't know for sure whether he was playing something off of "Led Zeppelin III" until the vocals came in. Everyone's derivative, but really--Zebra is so blatant. Rush, Pink Floyd, and Yes are also victims of Zebra thievery. The synths, vocal echo/psychedelia, and progness, respectively.

But, now that I've said that, I feel like I got a weight off my back. So, I can say that Zebra is a great live band. They had a huge sound for a trio. Even when Hanemann switched to synth, Zebra was meaty. Jackson had an almost Page-like nimbleness and mastery of his guitar, while Hanemann's bass playing was smart, melodic, and most importantly, deep and low. Drummer Guy Gelso was powerful and precise. He made complex fills look easy. He had great posture, and he barely raised his elbows when he smashed a cymbal(Aside: I could have done without his drum solo and the shameless way he slumped over his kit afterwards so the crowd would give him applause. If most of the audience had seen Elvin Jones play drums before he died, I'm sure the noise for Gelso wouldn't have been so loud).

Zebra was big on hooks, and I found myself tapping my foot during their original material. The Zeppelin stuff was better, though. That's when the crowd really came alive. The band was tight, and it was impressive how long Jackson could hold a high note. Not so impressive was his demeanor. He played and sang well, but he barely smiled. He acted like it was just another night, like he was attending a DMV class so he could get his driver's license back.

Even though the Howlin' Wolf was full, many people inside seemed bored by the music. The only explanation is that the concert was a benefit for Habitat for Humanity and that people's good hearts won out over their love for Zebra. Or, maybe they were turned off by Jackson, too.

Zebra put on a decent-to-good show. All depending on where you were standing, how much you liked the band, and how much you had to drink. They certainly did not suck.


As I Said Before
My Life Has Changed
Light of My Love
When You Get There
Rock Candy
Wait Until The Summer's Gone
The Immigrant Song
The Ocean
Don't Walk Away
He's Makin' You The Fool
The LaLa Song / Drum Solo / Old Ending
You'll Never Know
Who's Behind The Door
Better Not Call
Tell Me What You Want
One More Chance
Take Your Fingers From My Hair
Waitin' For The Bus
Jesus Just Left Chicago
Over The Hills and Far Away
Rock N Roll
The Last Time

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