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Music DVD Review: Zebra – The DVD

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Zebra was formed in 1975 in New Orleans and quickly made a name for themselves playing Led Zeppelin, Moody Blues, and Rush covers in clubs throughout Louisiana, and then eventually conquering the Long Island, NY club circuit in the early 80's. In 1983, they signed with Atlantic Records and released their self-titled debut album that same year. The album, fueled by the hit singles "Tell Me What You Want" and "Who's Behind The Door," eventually went gold and had many zealous fans calling them the second coming of Led Zeppelin.

The Zeppelin comparisons may have been a bit of an overstatement, and the band never really reached their full potential, but they have certainly produced enough classic rock ear candy to make this concert DVD a must have for any fan of the genre. Although the band continued to tour regularly during the 80's and 90's, Zebra have only released three other studio albums since their 1983 debut, with a vast 17-year gap separating their latest release, 2003's Zebra IV, and their previous effort, 1986's 3.V.

The one time I managed to catch Zebra in person was at a nightclub in Virginia, back in 2003, during their Zebra IV support tour. To be honest, I hadn't even realized that they were still together, since this was their first album in nearly two decades, but they still sounded as good as ever. They renewed my interest enough that I even picked up the "Videos and More" VHS tape they were peddling at the show, which featured a 1983 show from The Summit, in Houston, Texas, as well as all of their promotional videos.

Although the quality of that video was definitely substandard, it did get me thinking about how great it would be to have a good quality concert DVD of these guys. And now we do.

The DVD was recorded in 2006 at both the House Of Blues in New Orleans, and at The Downtown in Farmingdale, New York. You will find the original lineup of Randy Jackson (Vocals, Guitar), Felix Hanemann (Bass, Keyboards), and Guy Gelso (Drums) firmly intact, and much like that other hard rock power trio they are sometimes compared to, Rush, they will often sound like twice that many guys up on stage.

The video begins with a 25-minute "How It All Began" documentary, which offers a fascinating look at how they came to get their first record deal. Zebra were a pretty unique phenomenon at the time, managing to become the number one requested band on a major New York radio station based solely on all of the sold out club appearances they were doing throughout Long Island.

I quote part of the conversation between an Atlantic Records executive and a New York radio station program manager: "So, you mean the most requested LOCAL band? No moron! Number one is Zebra, number two is Ozzy, number three is AC/DC, and on down the line." They got signed soon after that conversation, and went on to become the fastest selling artist in Atlantic Records history. Even faster than Zeppelin.

Do not be expecting a single, continuous, live performance on this DVD. Most of the songs are interspersed with interview footage, and the performances alternate between the House Of Blues show, and a The Downtown club show. The Downtown performances also seem to come from two completely different shows; one a full-on electric concert, and the other an intimate acoustic show.

I was pleased to see that a lot of the new Zebra IV material was performed, five songs in all, but I was disappointed that they completely ignored their excellent 3.V album. That is unfortunate, since this could be the only concert DVD we ever get from these guys. But, let's hope not. Other than the 3.V dis, Zebra give the fans what they want, and that is a heavy duty dose of their debut album. Seven of the nine songs from the Zebra album are performed here, along with the four essential tracks from their sophomore follow up, No Tellin' Lies, which makes for a highly potent set list.

I already knew that my favorite Zebra tracks, "Tell Me What You Want" and "Who's Behind The Door," would be highlights of this DVD. The other standout performances were "The La La Song," with five minute drum solo and all, as well as the two excellent unplugged performances, "When You Get There" and "But No More." One of the most striking things about these performances for me was just how good Randy Jackson's vocals still sound live, especially considering that he is playing lead and rhythm guitar while singing.

Zebra's music is instantly recognizable because of Jackson's unique falsetto vocal style, which he alternates seamlessly with a more subtle and soothing midrange tone throughout every song. Although his vocals sounded flawless during these performances, it is his amazing acoustic and electric guitar playing that really takes center stage. He is also backed by a pretty impressive rhythm section in Felix Hanemann and Guy Gelso. When Hanemann is not at the front of the stage laying down the groove on his bass guitar, he is in front of his keyboard rack firing off intricate bass riffs with one hand, while launching sweeping synthesizer chords with the other.

The production quality of this DVD could have been better. Most disappointing was the lack of any 5.1 surround sound mix. Fortunately, the lone Dolby Digital 2.0 track sounded pretty good, especially at higher volumes. The picture was presented in full frame, not widescreen, and it was reasonably sharp and clear. The camera work was excellent and made you feel like you were watching from down in the crowd.

My biggest gripe is that there are interviews interspersed between most of the songs, with no option to just play the songs. Yeah, you can skip over them with your remote control easily enough, but who is going to want to sit through the interviews more than just during the first viewing. The interviews were all pretty interesting, especially Randy Jackson's, and you also get a few humorous segments with Howard Stern show alumni "Stuttering" John Melendez and Jackie "The Jokeman" Martling, who are both friends of the band.

The DVD proves that 30 years into their career, Zebra can still deliver the goods. I would still love to see something like that 1983 Houston Summit show get the full, Led Zeppelin DVD, deluxe, remaster and restoration treatment.

Set List
01. As I Said Before
02. Wait Until The Summer's Gone

03. Light Of My Love
04. K.K. Is Hiding
05. When You Get There
06. The La La Song
07. Bears
08. But No More
09. One More Chance
10. Tell Me What You Want
11. Arabian Nights
12. My Life Has Changed
13. No Tellin' Lies
14. Who's Behind The Door
15. Free
16. Take Your Fingers From My Hair

Ratings:
Performance 8/10
Production 6/10

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