The Arcada Theatre, St. Charles, IL
Friday, August 31, 2018
Review by Jeff Elbel
Photos by Luciano J. Bilotti
The Arcada Theatre in St. Charles continues to reinforce its reputation as an essential musical hub in the greater Chicago area. On Friday, the Arcada welcomed ‘80s hitmakers and New Orleans hard rockers Zebra for a rare visit. “It’s only our third time to Chicago ever,” said bassist Felix Hanemann while welcoming the crowd.
Zebra’s touring presence may be limited, but there was no evidence of rust during the dazzling two-and-a-half-hour show. Hanemann, drummer Guy Gelso, and guitarist/singer Randy Jackson performed a tightly-paced set of songs drawn from four studio albums including the band’s gold-selling 1983 debut. Jackson’s stratospheric falsetto took a few songs to warm up to the level of his exacting fretwork, faltering just a bit at the peaks of “Wait Until the Summer’s Gone.” Long before the band tore into “Tell Me What You Want,” however, the 63-year-old singer sounded ageless.
Upon spotting some youthful faces amongst middle-aged fans that grew up alongside Zebra, Jackson reflected. “Some of y’all were not even born when the fourth Zebra album came out,” he said, referring to 2003’s Zebra IV. “Nonetheless, it’s our latest and greatest.” The trio launched the intricate “Arabian Nights” with Hanemann doubling on bass and keyboards simultaneously, using his toes to trigger a floorboard unit. The song revealed the influence of rock classics like Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”
Jackson recalled the band’s first stop in Chicago, an auspicious start at Soldier Field opening for Sammy Hagar. Soon afterward, the band tipped its hat as Hanemann took lead vocal for a cover of Montrose’s lusty “Rock Candy” – a song the band pulled from early set lists circa 1975 in New Orleans nightclubs.
Zebra played the bulk of its 1983 debut, with a glorious version of “Who’s Behind the Door” featuring Jackson on 12-string acoustic guitar. “The La La Song” showcased rich, three-part vocal harmony. The song also served to spotlight powerhouse drummer Gelso, who reveled in the raucous crowd response to his cartwheeling solo. “He keeps getting better, year after year,” said Jackson in praise of his bandmate.
The title track to 1984’s No Telling Lies was a highlight, with its complex twists and Jackson’s two-ton riff. The trio masterfully spun through the song’s time-jumping turns, as Jackson’s keening voice soared atop the mix. Audience favorite “Bears” suffered from tuning trouble, but the band quickly recovered for the high-octane romance of “One More Chance” and emotional rollercoaster of “Take Your Fingers from My Hair.”
The band encored with a heavyweight, eight-song set of Led Zeppelin material, giving fans a survey of Zebra’s musical roots with favorites including “Rock and Roll” and deeper cuts like “The Rover.” Gelso anchored the heavy swing of “The Ocean.” Jackson dug hard into the riff of “Heartbreaker.” Hanemann’s bass fueled the grim gallop of “Immigrant Song.”
“We used to play this song in 1975 during the last set, at about four in the morning at a club called Old Man River’s,” said Jackson. “If you remember it, you weren’t there,” added Hanemann, joking with a fan before gliding into the bass line for “What Is and What Should Never Be.” The band closed with an epic run through the aforementioned “Kashmir,” saying the night had been great fun, and suggesting it would be worth a return visit someday.
Read more at Illinois Entertainer