(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Friday, June 19, 2009

Concert review - Glass Ceiling, Lez Zeppelin

18 June 2009 (Aggie Theater, Ft Collins CO)
You might remember my earlier article about cover songs, with its mention of tribute bands. Given that, it's a fair question to ask why I'd go see a tribute band like Lez Zeppelin. As I mentioned in that article, the art and artifice of an entertainment event are the main draws. The two bands I saw last night played a lot of cover songs between them and the whole point was to just immerse myself into the groove of the moment.

Glass Ceiling
This local trio plays a diverse set of cover songs. Like Lez Zeppelin, it's an all female band, but I'm not really sure how relevant that is. They're all supremely talented musicians that filled out the room with the sound of a much larger band. They bounced around classic rock, funk, blues, and hip hop. Drummer Audree D keeps a steady beat without sounding overly simple. She also sings lead on many of the songs. Hilary is a fairly showy bass player, with a nice melodic approach. Linda, the guitar player, has an understated stage presence, but some tremendous chops. She also sings many of the lead vocals.

The band kicked off with Stevie Wonder's Superstition, which powered right into Jimi Hendrix's Voodoo Chile. Even though these were covers, Glass Ceiling made them their own, emphasizing the soul of the Superstition and updating the sound of Voodoo Chile to have more of a metal grind. A trio is always a good test of musicianship: there's room to fill out the parts, but it can be tough to keep things tight. Glass Ceiling had no problem here. The fluid joy of the guitar riffs were easily tracked by a dirty bass sound, with it all anchored by the rhythmic pounding of the drums. Aside from playing some Jimi, my other favorite moments were Carlos Santana's Smooth and a funked out version of Sugar Hill Gang's Rapper's Delight. Great leads and energy, some nice breaks, what more could you ask for?

Coming back to the gender issue, it's an interesting question. For the most part, I didn't think it mattered. They simply rocked and that was enough. The only thing that gender might have affected was my interpretation of Linda's stage presence. Although she plays with confidence and has incredible technique, she didn't make much eye contact with the audience and she seemed to fold into her guitar. This was a stark contrast to the stereotypical hot guitarist. Sure, plenty of shoe gazer bands do the same thing without being feminine, so it's probably more of a bias on my part. And this is not to say that the band was shy and reserved. The stage show had some flashy elements, like Audree drumming on the guitar while Linda fretted and Hilary helping out on a lead guitar part. So, it was fun to watch.

Catch Glass Ceiling if you get the chance. You won't be disappointed.

Lez Zeppelin
I've heard that Steph Paynes doesn't like to call Lez Zeppelin a "tribute band". She prefers the term "she-incarnation". Certainly she does her best to evoke Jimmy Page on stage: she's got the clothing and all of the mannerisms. But better than that, she burns up the guitar. The rest of the band doesn't go quite as far to capture the original personalities, but it's still an homage to Led Zeppelin's memory. At some level, it's impossible to recreate the old Led Zeppelin experience because the scene itself was a big contributor to the mythos, much like with the Grateful Dead. Still, the band does their best to reach for a spontaneous feel within the constraints of the Led Zeppelin's style. This is an important difference between a tribute band and a cover band.

This was my first time to see the band and it's not the original line up. Paynes replaced her other bandmates starting with this tour. Everyone has settled into their parts, so there weren't any rough edges showing, but I'm sure it has affected the verisimilitude. Lead singer PJ Flowers sang more like Janis Joplin or Linda Perry, but sometimes Robert Plant could even sound a bit like Janis. Leesa Squyres couldn't beat the drums as hard as Bonzo, but she made a good effort. Jessica Fagre does a decent job on bass and keyboards, nailing the parts.

Even though I think they missed their own target a bit, it was still a rocking show. They kicked off with Immigrant Song, which immediately got the crowd going. The band played more or less non-stop for the rest of the night. They hit much of what you could ask for except for Stairway to Heaven, which they've apparently banned from their setlist. A drawn out version of No Quarter, Good Times, Bad Times, and Whole Lotta Love were the high points of the show. Steph Paynes had all of the expected guitars, including a Gibson double neck. Like Jimmy, she even played the theremin on a couple of songs. The only thing missing was playing the guitar with a violin bow, but that's just nitpicking.

They closed out their encore with Ramble On and came out to greet the fans. The audience was wrung out but happy as they headed out. Though it wasn't the same as seeing Led Zeppelin, it was a serious rock and roll show. The band demanded our attention and Steph stalked the stage, posturing like the Rock God she aspires to be. The songs sounded both right and alive in a way that some cover versions miss. Kick back some whiskey and Coke and let the head banging commence.More photos on my Flickr.

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