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Nealy 50 years after the release of the group’s debut album, Long Islanders still pack wherever their hometown heroes Zebra perform.
“It doesn’t surprise me when we sell out a room that size,” Zebra lead singer and guitarist Randy Jackson said following the group’s Nov. 19 performance at the nearly 1,600-seat Paramount in Huntington. “but the speed at which it sold out was surprising.”
For the first time ever, the group performed their 1983 self-titled debut album in it’s entirety from top to bottom, as well as other Zebra and Led Zeppelin classics. Rounding out the bill were Long Island’s power pop foursome Fuzzbubble and new hard rock, power metal tour de force, Emerald Rising.
The sold-out Saturday night concert offered audience members of all ages insight into Long Island’s live music scene of yesterday and today. The performers — who released their respective debuts in 1983, 2000 and 2020 — entertained stalwarts of the Speaks and Cheers club scene of the ’80s, frequenters of The Crazy Donkey or The Downtown in Farmingdale circa the early 2000s and young headbangers who seek local artists on Spotify and Apple Music, as well as music-focused joints like Katie’s of Smithtown.
Greater Long Island spoke with Jackson about Zebra’s music and connection to Long Island’s storied live scene, as well as Mark DiCarlo from Fuzzbubble and Emerald Rising’s Thomas Michael Cavanagh and Daena D regarding their bands’ performances and new music.
It’s fitting the first time Zebra played their first album start to finish was on Long Island, as Jackson said Long Islanders are “the ones who actually selected the songs for the first record.”
“When we first came up to Long Island, we were doing originals, but we never announced originals,” he explained. “We just played, and then we would get honest feedback from people … We could kind of tell the ones that stuck with people and the ones that didn’t.”
While hearing the album in it’s intended order live was a new experience, the evening elicited nostalgia for Long Island’s rock club scene. Tracks like “Who’s Behind The Door?,” “Tell Me What You Want” and “Take Your Fingers From My Hair” have remained staples of the band’s live sets throughout its existence, as they continue to evoke the same excitement in 2022 as in 1983.
“Personally, I like sitting down watching a show, but I noticed a lot of people that were sitting got up. And it started to become like it used to be at The Mad Hatter or Speaks during the show,” Jackson said of the full house at The Paramount. “It was a good crowd. They were really into it. It kind of reminds me of the old days, just a different age group. We’re all older now.”
The band, together 47 years, have released four albums, and their fans crave more. Jackson and his bandmates — Felix Hanemann (bass, keyboard and vocals) and Guy Gelso (drums and vocals) — may quench that thirst.
“We’ve been planning it for 20 years, and actually I’m heading to a rehearsal right now,” Jackson said of plans for a new album. “We’re going to probably learn the first new song we’ve learned in 20 years. So wish us luck.”
For Mark DiCarlo and the other original members of Fuzzbubble, lead guitarist Jim Bacchi and drummer Jason Camiolo, Nov. 19 marked their second concert in the last decade. It also marked their first performance since original bassist Brett Rothfeld’s passing last year.
While they can blast through their old tunes like “Bliss,” “Boomerang,” “Out There,” and “Don’t Let It Get You Down” with the same fervor as a quarter-century ago, they are in new stages of their lives with new perspectives and a rejuvenated desire to create together.
“We’re all over our fifties,” DiCarlo said. “And with Brett’s passing, life is too short and we just enjoy doing this so much. Distance shouldn’t stop us from creating music.
“It’s different where emotions and lyrics and things come from because we’re at the tail end of our game here,” he continued. “I know we still got it, but we got to keep doing something that we love and we felt was so great back then.”
Last month, Fuzzbubble dropped a new album, “Cult Stars From Mars,” the title of a two-decades-old track and the name of some of its members’ pandemic-era homebound project. Standout tracks include the uptempo dirty guitar chugger, “Can’t Wait to See You,” and “Dragonfly Pt II,” a perfect showcase of DiCarlo and Bacchi’s Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen styles and sensibilities that also features powerhouse drummer Mike Portnoy, a not-so-secretive power pop fan.
At the bands core, they are still the same old power pop lovers, but some of the album’s tracks make it clear they’ve broadened their horizons.
“The last song on the record, “The Window,” is very different from anything we’ve ever done in the past,” DiCarlo said. “Jimmy wrote that with Randy Jackson from Zebra in mind, but it ended up sounding so good he said ‘We’re going to keep this.’ It’s a very Zeppliny type of song, but it’s got a Cheap Trick vibe on top of it. It’s definitely a left of center song from what Fuzzbubble has done.
“Same with ‘Regretfully Yours,’ with the piano pop Jellyfish-type song,” he continued. “There’s a lot of different turns on this record. I think it’s much more diverse than the older stuff we’ve done.”
After the band’s two recent live performances and with some left over tracks that did not make the cut for “Cult Stars From Mars,” DiCarlo said the band’s creative juices are still flowing and teased even more Fuzzbubble down the road.
“Hopefully were gonna continue to write music and slowly do another record and see what happens about doing another live show,” he said. “I’m just over the moon. It was an early Christmas present to be able to play with those guys and do that Fuzzbubble music again because I love it so much.”
The members of Emerald Rising are no strangers to The Paramount. Guitarist Thomas Michael Cavanagh and lead singer Daena D, who founded the band in 2018, previously played the Huntington theater with Bad Animals, their Heart tribute band.
“I thinks it’s much more exciting to play The Paramount as an original band than as a tribute,” Cavanagh said. “We’ve played there with Bad Animals a few times, but when I’ve played there with original bands, it’s more rewarding because you’re doing your own music.”
The Paramount performance provided Emerald Rising an opportunity to share heavy hitting tracks off their self-titled debut with Zebra fans, many of whom likely have similar tastes as Cavanagh and D. The duo began creating music together to rejuvenate the hard rock of yesteryear that they hold dear.
As Cavanagh puts it, Emerald Rising is not “reinventing the wheel, but taking what we like that no one was doing anymore, or people were not doing it the way we enjoy listening to it.”
While they drew on a wide variety of influences while working in the studio, listeners will undoubtably associate the band’s sound with power metal vocals of Ronnie James Dio and the sensational guitar work of Ritchie Blackmore.
Riffs on standout tracks like “Enough” and “Lights Out” would not sound out of place played on Angus Young’s Gibson SG or Blackmore’s Fender Stratocaster, respectively. The thunderous rhythm bassist Chris Parrett and drummer John Laspina lay down on “Stars To Man” sets the stage for a Rainbow-esque epic topped with D’s vibrato-laden operatic delivery.
“That was a really great experience for me because it had been a while since I had done any original projects, I had been doing covers for the last 10 years,” D said of the two-years working on the first Emerald Rising album. “It was so refreshing to hear my voice, instead of me imitating somebody else. Emotionally, that was hitting a home run.”
The group effortlessly appeals to crowds of older rockers, and much to their surprise, their modern take on ’70s and ’80s rock and metal struck a chord with younger headbangers. Cavanagh recalls the reaction of younger audience members who approached him after opening for ’80s metal legends Stryper at the Landis Theater in Vineland, New Jersey.
“There were so many teenagers asking me for guitar pics, and we were signing autographs for kids that were 13 to 17, and I thought that was awesome,” he said. “They were all buying the record and I was amazed, I was humbled by it.
“I never thought we would reach an audience that was not 45 and up, because that’s really who AC/DC, Rainbow, and Deep Purple mostly appeal to because those are people who grew up with it,” he continued. “But to have all these teenagers there, that was really amazing.”
The band does not have any additional gigs lined up the remainder of 2022. They plan to hunker down and work on their sophomore release, which they expect to unveil next year.
Now that they’ve grown as a more cohesive unit and have a better sense of their own sound, Cavanagh said the new album will likely have a narrow focus compared to their more broadstroked debut. They will still draw on influences, including those left untapped on their previous release, particularly Iron Maiden, a favorite of Laspina.
“For me, this is sit back and create mode,” D said. “I’m taking this whole winter off so that we can really focus on some more Emerald Rising material. Me and the bass player are getting together and coming up with ideas, and then we get to work with Tom when he’s free. Yeah, we’re heading right back into the studio.”