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Zebra - The Arcada Theatre (St. Charles, IL) - April 08, 2023

9 April 2023
Photos by John Carlson (

When Zebra first visited the Arcada Theatre in August 2018, bassist Felix Hanemann revealed that it was only the band’s third visit to the Chicago area in its career. The New Orleans hard rockers had performed at ChicagoFest in 1983 while supporting their self-titled debut album and had returned in 2001 for a set at the House of Blues. On Saturday night, the trio delighted a crowd of enthusiastic local fans of heavy ‘80s rock with a third visit to the Arcada Theatre in five years.

The show was billed as a celebration of the 40th anniversary of Zebra’s gold-selling debut, featuring hit singles “Who’s Behind the Door?” and “Tell Me What You Want.” The concert was launched with the album’s “As I Said Before,” featuring the first of many dazzling solos by singer and guitarist Randy Jackson. Jackson’s high falsetto vocal rang clear while he deftly played the finger-tangling riff to the title track from 1985 sophomore album No Tellin’ Lies.

Things got interesting as Jackson dug into the familiar riff to the debut album’s “When You Get There.” Although fans in the audience couldn’t hear what was said, Hanemann launched a mild protest toward Jackson while pointing at the set list. Jackson continued. Soon enough, Hanemann joined gamely alongside drummer Guy Gelso.

Afterward, Jackson revealed the cause of disruption and requested a show of hands. “Who thought we were going to play the debut LP in order?” When most people in the audience raised their hands, Jackson laughed and said, “Well, that was false advertising.” Nonetheless, Jackson relented. Hanemann transitioned to his keyboard rig to begin the debut album’s dramatic and Zeppelinesque opener “Tell Me What You Want.” “One More Chance” and the band’s rollicking cover of Larry Williams’ rock and roll classic “Slow Down” followed.

“We haven’t played this in a long time,” said Jackson as he began “As I Said Before” a second time, slotting it back into its position in the album’s running order. Although redundant, Zebra played the encore performance with an extra measure of energetic abandon.

Throughout the set, the band’s playing was as tight as any of Gelso’s drums, but the presentation and pacing were free-spirited and casual. The players clowned like the Three Stooges and bickered like only lifelong friends and colleagues can do, in full view of the audience. It would have been interesting and impressive to see Zebra play a finely tuned show, but frankly, it was more fun to experience the band when it was clearly not operating on autopilot. This was flying by the seat of the pants.

The Arcada audience joined as a choir to sing along to “Who’s Behind the Door?” Jackson sat on a stool to play an intricate and sublime 12-string acoustic guitar part reminiscent of Yes’ Steve Howe. He strapped on a double-necked electric guitar to switch between the 12-string and 6-string parts for “Take Your Fingers from My Hair.”

The crowd didn’t get a second performance of “When You Get There,” but Zebra fulfilled their implied contract by playing the heavy jangle of “Don’t Walk Away” followed by the Yes-influenced “The La La Song” to complete the original album material.

Following Gelso’s thundering drum solo, Jackson led the crowd in singing happy birthday to honor Hanemann’s upcoming 70th birthday. “I know you all can’t make it to Nawlins for the big party,” said Jackson, suggesting that a fitting party was taking place at the Arcada.

Deep cut “Riverside” was dedicated to friends who had traveled to St. Charles for the show, followed by the soothing harmonies of “Lullaby.” Next, someone in the crowd called for the monstrous riff-rocker “Wait Until the Summer’s Gone.” “A very interesting choice,” responded Jackson, as the song was next on the set list. Gelso pounded his drum kit with precision and ferocity, filling the room with John Bonham-like thunder.

“Arabian Nights” from Zebra’s 2003 album IV was lesser known among some fans but was nonetheless a highlight of the set. The song’s urgent mood and Eastern flair were reminiscent of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.”

Requests for radio and MTV favorite “Bears” were satisfied next, but it was the evening’s one true misfire. Hanemann transitioned into the song’s key change and chorus several bars early, forcing Jackson to recalibrate and miss a couple of lines in order to catch up on vocal and guitar. The main set finished strong, however, with a solid performance of melodic rocker “He’s Making You the Fool” from 1986 album 3.V.

The band encored with treats for longtime fans. Anthemic deeper cut “About to Make the Time” from 3.V was followed by “Light of My Love” from IV. The riff-heavy latter song lurched and raged with an energy reminiscent of Led Zeppelin fare like “Heartbreaker.”

The show clocked in at two hours. The band’s casual approach and frequent interaction left fans feeling that Zebra had done its utmost to create a special one-off event for its returning fans at the Arcada Theatre. Judging by the ovation, everyone was ready for a fourth visit – including the band. “We’ll do it again,” promised Jackson as the trio waved goodbye.

See more Zebra coverage by photographer John Carlson at We Heart Music.