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Turned on

Five years ago, when their first CD came out, Zebrahead were an A&R person’s dream: a SoCal party band who combined the pop-punk cuteness of Blink-182 with the rap-metal aggression of Limp Bizkit. After scoring a modest hit right off the bat with "Get Back," the group failed to live up to their commercial potential. But they refused to throw in the towel, and their new third album, MFZB (Columbia), is as catchy as anything by higher-profile pop-punk veterans MXPX and Less Than Jake. They also remain one of the few acts around whose rap-metal side is more soulful than inane.

A week ago Thursday, Zebrahead came to Axis for one of the last stops on a month-long US tour. The crowd was small but lively: when singer Justin Mauriello let fans have a verse to themselves on the band’s current single, the bouncy "Hello Tomorrow," they knew every word. Mauriello, who spotted an ex-girlfriend in the audience and kept trying to have a conversation with her from the stage, was the most talkative of the group’s charismatic front line; he was also the only one who looked more LA than OC. Rapper Ali Tabatabaee wore a Pedro the Lion shirt and sipped a beer; surfer dude Greg Bergdorf supplied the guitar flash.

Zebrahead closed with "Rescue Me," a radio-friendly civil-rights plea that triggered what had to be the world’s most polite circle pit: tube-topped girls standing still in the middle, hormone-crazed boys running wild on the outside. Social issues also arose in the opening "Strength," on which Mauriello demanded, "Turn the TV off, turn me on." But the two best songs were about girls: the crushworthy "Into You" had the band’s most exhilarating hooks, and the 2000 single "Playmate of the Year" sounded like a lost Warped Tour classic.

Lola Ray, whose new debut, I Don’t Know You, is the first release on Good Charlotte’s DC Flag label, opened the show. Wiry frontman John Balicanta apologized for being hoarse, but he still managed to win the crowd over: it even sat through a ballad for him. On their current single, "Automatic Girl," the NYC band evinced the energy of their star benefactors but little of the sugary aftertaste, relying instead on subtle dissonance and Clash-style bravado. And since it was their last night on the tour, they were treated to a good-natured hazing (a string of mid-set interruptions) from the headliners.


Issue Date: June 18 - 24, 2004
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