Twinkle, twinkle

Looking Star emerges from the ashes of Sweet Vine as a genuine blue-eyed-soul contender

Looking Star, in Vegas, is a pre-mohawk Hans Eberbach, Steve King and Nathan Dale. Not pictured: Jeremy Plog.

Looking Star, in Vegas, is a pre-mohawk Hans Eberbach, Steve King and Nathan Dale. Not pictured: Jeremy Plog.

Live! Friday, November 21; at the Blue Lamp, 1400 Alhambra Boulevard. Call (916) 455-3400 for time and cover.

In a parallel universe, Hans Eberbach might be an underground cartoonist. He draws his own comics, and he mentions Peter Bagge, Daniel Clowes, Julie Doucet and Adrian Tomine when pressed for what comic artists he likes.

On this Thursday night, however, while strutting the stage at Harlow’s; wearing a work shirt with a blue tie embroidered with a small, yellow, Robert Crumb-styled “Keep on Truckin’” boot; and sporting a shaved head from which a waxed purple mohawk sprouted like a giant shark fin, Eberbach looked like no one other than comic artist Bill Griffith, as he occasionally draws himself in his long-running “Zippy the Pinhead” strip. “I could sleep on it, wear a baseball cap for two days and go work out hard for an hour, and it would still be hard,” Eberbach joked after the show. “It’s an extreme combover; that’s all it is.”

Eberbach fronts a four-piece band called Looking Star, which formed in January when the singer and his wife returned from Southern California’s South Bay. There, since late summer in 2001, he’d been working at writing music with the idea of breaking into film and television work, via a friend who had an in at one of the studios. The move came after the breakup of his previous band, Sweet Vine, which had released one album on Columbia in 1997 before meandering for a time in that particular limbo reserved for major-label acts whose debut albums never quite catch fire. Nevertheless, as Eberbach recalled of the time, “We had a really good time out on the road. … I miss the road.”

Three of the four members of Looking Star came from Sweet Vine: Eberbach, guitarist Nathan Dale and drummer Steve King. Only bassist Jeremy Plog is new. Onstage, they play together with a lot of energy, but they still sound as if they are trying to find a sound that works for them. One moment, they were churning out the kind of edgy pub rock favored by early Joe Jackson or John Hiatt and the next they were sliding into amplified blue-eyed soul that ranged somewhere between Daryl Hall & John Oates and Bad Company. As a guy in the audience remarked after the band’s 50-minute set, “I don’t know if these guys are trying to be Barenaked Ladies or Counting Crows.”

And that’s no real sin; a lot of bands use the nightclub stage to try out new material, to allow sound to coalesce in an organic manner, and to see what an audience will react to and what it won’t. And what the crowd reacted to most was the combination of Eberbach’s powerful vocals—he’s got the kind of voice that can segue from a raspy blues-rock bark into a soulful falsetto and back with the precise smoothness of a German luxury sedan’s gearbox—and Dale’s Southern-inflected guitar playing, which touched on a number of points below the Mason-Dixon line, including the Memphis, Tenn., of Steve Cropper and the Macon, Ga., of the Allman Brothers.

The band recorded three demo songs last spring, which are posted on its Web site at One of those, “Playin’ It Like It’s Over,” offers a pretty good example of what Looking Star does well when the band is firing on all cylinders. The ballad, with Dale on background vocals, is a near-perfect mix of Philly soul—the kind Hall & Oates nailed on Abandoned Luncheonette before they turned into a hit-making machine—and the mid-tempo soul rock of such oft-maligned bands as Hootie & the Blowfish and Counting Crows. The lyrics evoke a world-weary vision of club life, where the only thing to do after she’s moved on is have a few drinks, sleep it off and then have a few more and get back into the game.

“I’ve given that song to like skinhead-looking dudes just as a joke, and they come back and say, ‘Dude! That first song on that CD, it’s old school!’” Eberbach enthused.

True. But, given Eberbach’s mohawk and the band’s apparent willingness to explore, Looking Star doesn’t appear to be settling into too familiar a groove.