Bang the Drum Quickly

Zebras in America at the Comet Tavern, Jan. 17, 2007.

Am I the only person who didn't learn the pop standard "Low Bridge" in elementary school? "You can always tell your neighbor/You can always tell your pal/If you've ever navigated/On the Erie Canal." Yeah, these are all new words to me. But damn it if every last person at the Comet didn't start kicking their heels and singing along when local roots band Zebras in America laid into that American classic full hog (except me, of course).

"Low bridge, everybody down/For it's low bridge/We're coming to a town!" Hell, even the sound guy was bopping up and down to the old familiar tune.

In the studio, Zebras in America mine an Anglophile folk-pop vein. The melodies are very Beatles-esque, with just a hint of twang. The lo-fi production gives their songs of traveling through the Northwest an almost hazy quality. Something about their sparse delivery makes them sound as if they've spent a little too much time in the sun, à la Skygreen Leopards or Beachwood Sparks. Songs like "Monkey Hill Rd" reference climbing around Deception Pass, while "Swimming Hole" is a banjo-driven summer jam, replete with hand claps.

Live, however, the Zebras' roots quotient is upped considerably, the band's softer edges morphing into rollicking acoustic roots rock. Frontman Brent Antal rocks back and forth from heel to heel, baseball cap pulled tight across his shaved head, while the equally cleanly shorn bassist, Alex Kulick, anchors the commotion with his eyes shut and chin lifted to the sky. While the poppier edge of the band tends to hide during the harder- hitting moments, keyboardist Katie Hiestand and rhythm guitarist Aubrey Halvorsen keep things bright and catchy with their respective instruments.

I'd seen the Zebras once before, opening for Ghosts I've Met at the Tractor. While the band seemed pretty solid already, it's amazing what a difference a new drummer can make. Having moved to Seattle from Ithaca, N.Y., only five days before the show, Antal's brother, Chris Antal, proved to be a goddamn powerhouse on the skins. Without him appearing to make any effort whatsoever, each drumhead slam was like a blow to the chest (in the best way, of course), and each beat was pushed forward with such force that it was akin to noticing the difference between Chad Channing (one of Nirvana's original drummers) and Dave Grohl. Zebras in America's other drummer might have been competent, sure, but this one was propelling the band to a whole new level. Hopefully, he digs Seattle enough to stick around.

bbarr@seattleweekly.com

Opening Act is a weekly look at a band you didn't go to see but saw anyway—because they played before the band you went to see (and were maybe even better).

 
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