I have to admit, I am a sucker for tribute bands. Since most of my favorite music is from the classic rock era (1965-1975 roughly), most performances I see are either part of the band or a group of young-ins recreating an experience for an audience. Of course, I have written about terrible cover bands (and there are plenty), but I love seeing a band that takes its time to embody not only the music but the members themselves.
I was very excited to find out that a great tribute band was coming to Austin: Led Zeppelin 2. You can gather just in their title alone that they are a Led Zeppelin tribute band, obviously. I did some research and found out that they are a touring tribute band, founded in Chicago, and are actually one of the best around. The band looks, sounds and feels like Led Zeppelin. And since I don’t think I have any chance of every seeing Led Zeppelin in their element (that time travel/bring the dead back to life machine isn’t working as I’d hoped), I jumped at the opportunity to see a close re-creation of what a Zeppelin show would have been like.
Not only that, but I found time to sit down with LZ2′s Robert Plant (aka Bruce Lamont) for an interview discussing what it means to be a big part in folks re-living the Led Zeppelin experience.
Now, Bruce and the members of Led Zeppelin 2 (Paul Kemp (Jimmy Page), Ian Lee (John Bonham), and Matthew Longbons (John Paul Jones)) are part of other original bands as well, but Led Zeppelin 2 brings them together to re-create the Zeppelin Experience for all those who wish to partake.
Starting off in our interview, Bruce was very hesitant to even call Led Zeppelin 2 a ‘tribute band’.
“At one time the cover band or tribute band was a dirty word. (Members of the crowd) would stand in the back watching and thinking, ‘what is this crap’. Now, out the gate, you walk out there, and they are excited. They’ve let their guard down a little bit. And they are accepting it for what it is”
Led Zeppelin 2 was never formally created or even created with an intention to go anywhere. “This is something we started back in Chicago back in 2000 as a Halloween thing, like all the ‘original’ bands would dress up as their favorite bands for Halloween.”
They ended up playing every Halloween as Zeppelin until they got to the point where they wanted to play more than just once a year. So they chose a random club that saw little cover bands and decided to play a few times a year.
“We saw something, and thought, let’s see where we can take this. And slowly but surely it’s been building. The last couple years it’s really accelerated. It went from being just a Chicago thing to playing really large clubs in Chicago to people starting to approach us.”
The group members were having so much fun and getting such a warm response, they decided to take Led Zeppelin 2 out on the road. In fact, the first cities were Texas’s own Dallas and Houston, which went over extremely well. So much so, they were the first cover act to play the South by Southwest music festival in Austin two years ago with a legitimate showcase.
Perhaps the most intriguing part of the whole band is their ability to actually sounds like Led Zeppelin. If you have ever tried to play a Led Zeppelin song as any member of the band, each musician is incredibly gifted and good at their instrument. To find four members who are all that gifted is such a rarity. That is why Led Zeppelin was so memorable: they were all incredible musicians and song writers. To take on that kind of band is a tall order.
“Every single member of this band (Led Zeppelin 2) has to step it up and take it.” Lamont says, “You’re trying to imitate and compliment, but at the same time you want to inject a little bit of yourself in there too. It’s an ongoing process, but we keep getting better. We really just don’t want to cheat anybody. We don’t want to half-ass this. We’re going to do it right or we’re just not going to do it.”
Trying to imitate a legendary band and create an experience also creates a friction between the musicians themselves and how to handle ‘being Robert Plant.’ While the crowd isn’t stupid (yes, they know it isn’t the real guys up there), they also want to be slightly disillusioned and maybe have some lines blurred. LZ2 does dress as the members (and yes, Bruce wears a wig), but only to help the crowd get into the mood.
“It’s fantasy, but to a point.” Lamont continues, “I don’t have a British accent the entire show, we’re from the southside of Chicago. I don’t want that much illusion. But as far as the music goes, we know the ins and outs of the songs, rare versions, live versions, that much we try to be as close as possible.”
One aspect of the show they have been noticing is who is in their audience. With all classic rock bands in today’s times, the experience is skewed. Sometimes the band you are watching on stage as ‘Thin Lizzy’ is really one original band member with younger musicians filling in the rest. Sometimes it can be the whole band, but looks have faded, energy has fizzled and the audience is more about sitting in soft chairs and putting in ear plugs, buying a t-shirt and a mixed drink rather than taking drugs on the floor of some basement downtown. But the tribute band can sometimes step in and fill the shoes for the younger generation looking for those experiences of the past.
“We’ve been seeing a lot more younger people at our shows. We just did two shows in Chicago to kick this tour off and the whole floor I didn’t recognize anybody. It was all younger people like 17-23 going completely bananas. It’s like a new generation of fans who want the live experience.”
Playing a Zeppelin show is a whole other accomplishment. If the songs are there, trying to re-create a 3 hour concert from 1977 is taxing on any muscian. So LZ2 likes to change things up. I mean, for that time on stage, they are Led Zeppelin, right? “We do play 2 plus hours, we do improvise and stress things out, and when we play ‘Dazed and Confused’, it is what it is. Twenty minutes or longer. We used to go on tour and play their setist verbatum, but now we’re just having fun with it. Who the hell says we can’t open with ‘Custard Pie’? They never did, but it opens up ‘Physical Graffiti’ so why not?”
Even more, they have gone beyond the typical realms of tribute/cover band boundries and have recorded a Led Zeppelin song as Led Zeppelin 2. Actually, it was a Yardbirds/New Yardbirds song. (Quick history lesson for those unaware—The Yardbirds were a 1960s pop rock band which actually started the careers of three of the most influencial guitar players: Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Jimmy Page. When Page was the guitarist of the Yardbirds, various members faded out, so they hired Robert Plant as singer and studio musician and bassist, John Paul Jones. Plant recommended childhood friend John Bonham on drums, and now the ‘New’ Yardbirds had formed. With this new line up, the band decided on a name change, as the new sound they wanted to produce was far from the old Yardbirds. Keith Moon created the name when joking about a potential supergroup consisting of Page, Beck, Moon, Jones and Hopkins saying it would go over ‘like a lead balloon’. Take out the ‘a’ – Led Zeppelin. Okay, back to Bruce.)
“We wanted to record, but re-record Led Zeppelin classics? Why would be do that. But we found this one Yardbirds song, ‘Happiness Ten Years Time Ago’. It’s one of the few songs where Beck and Page play twin leads, and on the recording itself, there is a session player – John Paul Jones – playing bass. It is 1966, it is a good riff, so we took it back to the studio to play and rework it. It’s not a Zeppelin song, it’s a Yardbird song, but heavy duty Zeppelin fans will recognize the sound as a Zeppelin song.”
And when it comes to the show, they are not kidding when it comes to knowing every Zeppelin song in and out. They opened with ‘Custard Pie’ which was oddly perfect. Bruce was right, while Zeppelin never officially opened with ‘Custard Pie’ it seems to fit as a great opener and getting everyone ready for a great show. Every song was perfect. It didn’t matter that you knew these guys were the actual band, because when you closed your eyes, you were watching and listening to Led Zeppelin live.
There are some highlights of the show, for sure. ‘Dazed and Confused’ is probably the peak of the show. The audience knows it is coming too. As soon as that iconic bass walk starts, the crowd goes nuts. The solo in the middle from Paul Kamp (Jimmy Page) is jaw-dropping. When he pulls the bow out and sweetly seranades the audience with one of the most incredible solos ever viewed in person, it leaves everyone speechless. The song probably was 20 minutes long, but I couldn’t tell. We were all in a trance.
(watch this and TELL me it doesn’t sound like Led Zeppelin!)
Watching Led Zeppeln 2 was the closest moment to Zeppelin I will probably ever get. The songs were great, the setlist was long and diverse, and if you are a Zeppelin fan, I recommend seeing this band whole heartedly. It’s very rare you come across a band who knows the songs, can play the songs, and even record a song like the band they are covering. If seeing the original Led Zeppelin was a once in a lifetime experience, I have to say, seeing Led Zeppelin 2 is right up there with it.
For more information on Led Zeppelin 2, including tour dates and photos and videos, visit: www.zep2.com Also, be sure to check out Bruce Lamont back in town for SXSW 2012 doing his solo stuff. Should be great!
Rock n Roll
What Is and What Will Never Be
Since I’ve Been Loving You
Misty Mountain Hop
Stairway to Heaven
Going to California
That’s The Way
Dazed and Confused
Happiness Ten Years Time Ago
When the Levee Breaks
On the Tiles