Thought we’d do something a little different for this week’s Classic Albums, and delve into the world of live recordings, whaddaya say? Towards the end of my junior year of high school, Long Island folk heroes ZEBRA finally gave us a recorded souvenir of what it was like to be at one of their packed-to-the-rafters shows at Sundance, the Last Stronghold of Rock N’ Roll! Recorded over two nights in November of ’89, one of which me and the whole crew was there for, Zebra Live is the quintessential live record of a band at the peak of their powers as musicians. Randy Jackson (vocals, guitar) Felix Hanemann (bass, keyboards), and Guy Gelso (drummer extraordinaire!) were on absolute fire during all fourteen of these tracks culled mostly from the first three records Zebra, No Tellin’ Lies, and 3.V.
And that was the thing with ZEBRA. The album sales at this point were not very good by any means, but their live show was the stuff of legend, hence why we went to see them every chance we got. On this particular night we were pressed right up against the stage as they tore through “As I Said Before” and two new songs back-to-back “She’s Waiting For You” and “Last Time” both of which kicked serious ass. Up next is “Wait Until the Summer’s Gone” with Jackson hitting seemingly unattainable highs. I know this because I spent a LOT of time aggravating everyone around me trying to match them, to no avail. Same thing with “One More Chance”, except I could almost hit those, which didn’t make it easier on my crew’s eardrums, quite frankly!! And I still prefer this live version to the studio one.
From here we transition seamlessly into the keys of “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” or Hay-uh, as my Long Island-accented buddies would say, a song that is equal parts majestic, beautiful, and epic and was unlike anything at the time, hell even since. Another great thing about this performance is that it galvanized me to seek out the two ZEBRA albums I was missing, since all I had was the debut. Songs like “Summer’s Gone” and “Bears” off of Lies, and “Better Not Call” from 3.V became favorites, especially “Call”, which for about two weeks straight was my walking music from class to class. Who am I kiddin’, it was my struttin’ music! My cousin Renee in Ireland used to see me and say, “Here! Do you think you’re John Travolta or somethin’? More like John Revolting!” The brat. Ah, what silly things we do as teenagers, huh? Oh, and who can forget “The La La Song” complete with Gelso’s amazing drum solo, a highlight of any ZEBRA performance.
After you’ve managed to catch your breath and attempt to wipe the sweat from your brow, Randy pulls up a chair for a solo acoustic ditty called “Time”. I’m convinced this was done to allow heart rates to return to normal. I don’t know about you, but whether I was at a show, or listening to this record, mine was certainly racing. Besides, your respite is short-lived as Sundance goes batshit for “Who’s Behind The Door?” a song that is so hard to describe because it starts off slow and easy and then it just builds and builds to this crescendo, then all bets are off for the final two minutes as everything comes crashing down around you. Mid-tempo rocker “He’s Makin’ You the Fool” and the essential “Tell Me What You Want” round out the original portion of the record, the latter of which is one that if it comes on the radio there I am, at Sundance, 17 again, screaming my head off, and it’s great.
What’s cool too, is that ZEBRA were always known for their dead-on, spot-on LED ZEPPELIN covers live, so as an added bonus we are treated to them doing “The Ocean” which never failed to get the crowd all kinds of riled up. If you’re Long Island born and raised and never saw ZEBRA at Sundance, man do I feel bad for you. That’s what makes Zebra Live so special. I can close my eyes now and I am brought back to one of the most magical times of music for me, and the crew: Joe, Mike, Steve, Russell, and Chrissy. The six of us were staples at Sundance and ZEBRA shows because we always came away minds blown at just how fucking great they were! This is one of those live albums that not only captures the spirit of what it was like to be there, but it is a snapshot of those memories that those of us who WERE there will always have, forever and ever. And I think that’s pretty cool. ~dc