My buddy Eric and I are fans of Led Zeppelin. Thirty years ago, anytime their brilliantly flawed concert film The Song Remains The Same was screening at midnight, we’d be there. Didn’t matter how many times (hundreds? thousands?) we’d heard Kashmir or How Many More Times, at some point during an evening out, we’d have the Mighty Zeppelin cranked up high. Few have been the phone calls over a lifetime which haven’t had at least one mention of the band.
After the band’s demise, there sprang up imitators and tribute bands. One of my favorite as always been Dread Zeppelin, who play reggae versions of Zeppelin songs and feature a rotund Elvis impersonator on lead vocals.
A few years back I read about an all girl Led Zeppelin tribute band called Lez Zeppelin. Eventually, I knew, I’d have to see them, if only to be able to say “Yes, I saw Lez Zeppelin.” Eric and I had had a few chuckles about them over the years and when I saw they were coming to New Hope, PA on a Saturday, I thought the time was ripe to experience this group.
I got tickets and told Eric we were going out for the evening, but didn’t tell him where. I poked him with a sharp stick about it for a month. I’m sure by the time the big day rolled around, he’d lost sleep over the matter.
I headed up early, intent on dropping in on my brothers and nephews. Neither sets of families were home. At my brother John’s house I left a message written in mulch on the driveway: Unkie Joe Was Here. John said the kids loved it and it made their day. I’m sure it was more like these two teenagers shook their heads, slightly bemused, before going in and hitting the PS4.
You know you’re best friends with someone when you’ve known them for 35 years and still yabber at each other nonstop, as we did on the drive over, about things new and things talked about ad nauseum over the decades. We got into New Hope..very crowded on a Saturday night and got to the Havana Club an hour before show time. After a long laugh upon finally finding out who we were seeing that night, Eric had a burger and I the chipotle pulled pork tacos.
We knew we were going to have a good time, enjoying each other’s company and watching the band, if only for the kitsch factor of seeing a group called Lez Zeppelin. We didn’t expect them to stink, I guess, but we certainly didn’t hold any high expectations either.
We were pleasantly surprised. They burned that place down. The band opened up with Immigrant Song and took off from there. The rhythm section laid it down low and heavy and the singer was wild and on key the entire evening. But the star of the show was Steph Paynes, the guitar player. You can take your models, porn stars, strippers, actresses and divas…this woman was the sexiest entertainer I’ve ever seen. What made her sexy was that low slung Gibson and that sloppy, all over the place guitar playing.
And I say the word “sloppy” in the most complimentary way. Led Zeppelin’s records, with their layered guitars and stunning production are brilliant technically. But what I think was a major part of the band’s appeal is the fact that Jimmy Page was such a slob on stage. (Again….I say the word “slob” with the highest respect). As Eric said that night, “live”, Page cares more about the groove than hitting every note.
Steph Paynes was somehow able to duplicate this. And it seems to me a brilliant achievement. Purposely trying to ape someone else’s sloppy-but-incredibly-rocking guitar style seems like it would end up in disaster if not done right. Steph Paynes nailed it. I’m not sure if she sets out to do this on purpose or if she’s just spot on channeling Pagey…but she and her band gave one of the best live shows I’ve ever seen. I walked out of there grateful that I’d been able to see a show like that in a fairly small sized club, six feet away from the band.
I dropped Eric off and headed home. There’s really no easy way to get to the PA Turnpike from his house, so I headed out lonely PA23 to Morgantown and got on there.
The air was very mild and, as it was midnight and I was facing a three hour drive, I opened the windows and plugged in my iPhone. Now, I drive a pickup truck with a radio that’s been broken for five years. So I’m used to riding in silence. That night I was driving my wife’s Sonata. I actually had to get used to driving with music again. But after awhile I found the experience very pleasant. Windows down, a misty evening. Even though it was late, I was a bit surprised at how little traffic was on the road at 1:00 AM on a Saturday night.
Got home safe and sound…and watched the Eagles get beat up by the 49ers later that day….that song remains the same.