Zebra performs at Brick By Brick on February 8
Back in early ’83, when a newly opened musicians’ shop out near Morena Boulevard was running TV ads starring a mullet-headed rock singer who crooned “Music Mart, your complete music stoooore,” one commercial announced an in-store appearance by a hard-rock trio named Zebra, whose debut album was the buzz of all the rock mags. I remember Mr. Mullet promising “If you like Led Zeppelin, you’ll love Zebra…they’re the next Zeppelin!” He was right about the first claim — I liked Zeppelin and loved the jaw-dropping set that Zebra played on the makeshift Music Mart stage — but totally wrong about their destiny. Terrific hard-driving rock anthems like “Who’s Behind the Door?” and “Tell Me What You Want” did indeed sound like early Zeppelin (at least if the members had come up in New Orleans in the late ’70s), but they also took cues from the first few Rush albums, Marc Bolan, the Sweet, and more than a little Aerosmith. Being tagged “the next Zeppelin” right out of the gate was as crippling an albatross as naming the Knack “the new Beatles,” to cite another tight little ensemble doomed by their own press releases. Zebra had actually been together for several years before recording that first album, which peaked at U.S. number 29 and took them around the world. Their 1984 follow-up, No Tellin’ Lies, was nearly as good as their first but stalled at number 84. The next two releases, in 1986 and a 1990 live album, failed to chart at all, and the group splintered. A reunion resulted in 2003’s Zebra IV album, and guitarist Randy Jackson has said they’re working on material for a new full-length. Their February 8 set at Brick By Brick, part of their first West Coast tour since 1987, will include a performance of their entire 35 year-old debut album.
Bruno Major: retro soul and flights of electro-jazz
London singer-songwriter Bruno Major specializes in a retro soul, peppered with pop touches and backed by almost sci-fi-sounding flights of electro-jazz. Even his piano- and guitar-playing evoke Motown as if produced by Timbaland with an eye toward club remixes, with a new full-length called A Song for Every Moon that has enabled him to sell out headline gigs at the Echo in L.A. and Brooklyn’s Elsewhere. The genesis of the album came from Major’s determination to write, record, and release one fully realized song per month, for a full year, and the result plays more like a greatest-hits collection than an all-new record, with each track constructed as if it was the lead single. “Albums are generally recorded within a smaller time frame, and that helps lend them an identity as a whole and gives the tracks a feeling that they’re siblings, sonically,” says Major in a press release. “The big challenge for me has been to make sure there’s a link through all of these songs, because I’ve changed as a musician over the year.” Having scored 40 million streams of the record (with a video recently uploaded for the track “Just the Same”) Major is on a 14-date North American tour that will bring him to the Casbah on February 24.
Crooked Colours is on their first U.S. headline tour
Like many electronic-indie rock groups, Australian trio Crooked Colours started out as house-party DJs who aspired to expand their act with original music and videos that would take them from clubs to arenas. That was happening to a bunch of DJs in 2013, the year that found them breaking out in their home country and Europe, landing three consecutive singles at number one on the Hype Machine chart — “Come Down,” “Capricious,” and “Another Way” — as they rolled out three increasingly popular self-titled and numbered full-lengths. Taking their hard synths and live drums on the road, they quickly went from opening for San Cisco and Flume to headline slots and festival bookings at Wonderland, Coachella, and Bonnaroo, especially after the release earlier this year of their newest full-length, Vera, preceded by yet another hit single with the track “Flow.” Having just come off a tour with Crystal Castles (with whom they’re often compared), their appearance at Soda Bar on February 25 marks their first U.S. headline tour and their first date in San Diego.
311: rock-and-repeat at HOB
Creed. Train. Nickelback. Hinder. Bands that all sound similar and kept making albums and doing big tours even though nobody I know, and probably nobody you know, can tell you anything about those groups other than the fact that they exist. Add 311 to that list of faceless bands with phantom fans who nonetheless keep those players in picks and drumsticks, with an inexplicably lengthy discography of music that could best be described as paint-by-numbers alt rock as if composed by a focus group. The beats, solos, mellow passages, and layered finales all follow the same tired and true formula, a rock-and-repeat sleight of hand that works in the hands of a band with actual songwriting chops, like AC/DC or ZZ Top, but comes off like your dad’s Classics Illustrated adaptation of a rock song in the hands of those who’d rather sell than serenade. House of Blues has enough faith in 311 to book them for a two-night stand on March 5 and 6, though they’re hedging their bets with two different support acts. Orange County punk rockers Zebrahead (which has a new compilation out this month called The Bonus Brothers) will open the first show, while ska-punk band Save Ferris will appear on the second night.
Queens of the Stone Age stops skipping San Diego
Another two-night booking will be staged at Observatory North Park on March 21 and 22 with Queens of the Stone Age, a stoner rock band that has skipped San Diego on its tours for several years now. Their newest full-length was released in August, Villains, produced by Mark Ronson (Amy Winehouse, Bruno Mars) and featuring the band pretty much standing on its own for the first time, minus the flashy guest musicians that bolstered previous releases. Some listeners seem annoyed and surprised by the slightly disco synths and beats, but it sounds to me like a fairly natural progression from similar sounds explored on their previous two full-lengths, ...Like Clockwork (2013) and Era Vulgaris (2007), with the raunchy guitars recorded directly into the mixing console for maximum crunch. Villains debuted at number three on the Billboard 200 chart in September, a factor that, coupled with their tendency to avoid playing south of the OC, will likely help sell out both evenings.