Do you remember Encomium, the 1995 tribute to Led Zeppelin? That affair on Atlantic Records featured several tracks that reached the radio, including 4 Non Blondes belting out “Misty Mountain Hop” and Sheryl Crow crooning “D’yer Mak’er.” There was also a read of “Dancing Days” by Stone Temple Pilots so drowsy and dour it upended the original to become something new.
Yet despite boasting covers both weird and near beautiful — like Rollins Band thumping through “Four Sticks,” or Hootie and the Blowfish sweetening up “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” — the album itself was forgotten. Any why wouldn’t it be? Tackling Zeppelin is a fool’s errand. For those that try, they’re up against the improbable: distinguishing themselves from the mystique named Page-Plant-Bonham-and-Jones.
I mean, what’s the first thing you see when you hear anybody discharge a few notes of “Stairway to Heaven”? That’s the right: Jimmy Page strumming his double-neck guitar. The songs are one thing, but surmounting the imagery still radiating from the band is another.
Tonight at Carnegie Hall, though, over 50 artists accepted the challenge. Assembled by Michael Dorf, the founder and CEO of City Winery, they spent two and a half hours trying to conjure up more than a cursory helping of Zep.
moe., for example, took their cue from Hootie and the Blowfish. They brought an easy-going mode to “Hey, Hey What Can I Do” that made it tender and flush with intimacy. They could have been playing it in a bar across the street.
Deva Mahal, joined by Binky Griptite on guitar, appealed directly to the audience for help. Before beginning “Your Time Is Gonna Come,” she declared, “I’d like to dedicate this song to anyone who profits off abuse and oppression.” An echo of cheers flashed over the hall, suddenly rewriting a song about a two-timed lover into a populist call for social justice and anti-Trumpism. The blues lineage brimming in Deva’s delivery completed the effect.
On the other hand, having played “Fool in the Rain” on tour for years, O.A.R. reframed it in jam band swagger. So arriving at the song’s tough mid-section break, they didn’t fret. Instead, they gave it a touch of unexpected sax. And then, as if to reward their choice, the audience began clapping, erratic at first, until each inconsistency joined together to form a terrific rhythmic force.
Bettye LaVette, who tried “All My Love,” choose to delay her rendition until absolutely necessary. Her tactic was so successful, she coaxed something extraordinary from the tension. You can read about it here:
Meanwhile, splitting the air with her guttural shrieks, Erika Wennerstrom, chanteuse of Heartless Bastards, belted them out beside a string quintet’s drone. And, as the group heaved its bows from side to side, Wennerstrom’s “Kashmir” hurled up the balconies.
Not to be bested, the Lemon Souls bashed so thoroughly through “Bring It On Home” their two-pronged attack of drum and guitar made it feel like a lost track from Zep’s first album. Their enunciated cymbals were spastic, but the sudden reference to “How Many More Times” during the freewheeling guitar solo was even better.
Boosting the wattage much further, J Mascis took a multi-minute solo during “Tangerine” that woke up Carnegie’s dead, or at least knocked their pictures off the walls backstage. They only thing people probably thought of while he was doing it was, “Wow, I never knew this song needed a good shred!” (Sorry, Jimmy Page, we still love you!)
Then there was Corey, Corey Glover that is. Gliding onstage in a technicolor coat and saucy white hat, Glover announced the arrival of Living Colour with a screaming falsetto. Promptly joined by Will Calhoun’s snare, they went way off the rails on the classic “Rock N’ Roll.”
That’s how it looked, anyway, but behind the facade they were a well-tuned machine: Vernon Reid jabbing the riff with his whammy bar and Dough Wimbish smacking the beat off his bass. Glover kept howling. It was such a fine noise, they might as well have been capping their own three hour show.
But why’d they get amped for just one song? And is that the best way to do anything Zep? Well, by the tune’s final chorus — or series of choruses — they turned the old warhorse into their own. So the answer is, “YES!”
Here’s what everyone played:
“No Quarter” (Tom Hamilton and Holly Bowling)
“Dancing Days” (Matthew Sweet)
“Ramble On” (Joseph Arthur)
“When the Levee Breaks” (Patrick Hallahan of My Morning Jacket)
“Your Time Is Gonna Come” (Deva Mahal with Binky Griptite of the Dap Kings)
“Since I’ve Been Loving You” (Ayron Jones)
“Kashmir” (Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards)
“We’re Gonna Groove” (Bustle In Your Hedgerow)
“The Rain Song” (Nicole Atkins)
“Hey, Hey, What Can I Do” (moe.)
“Bring It On Home” (The Lemon Souls)
“Thank You” (The Zombies)
“Fool in the Rain” (O.A.R.)
“All My Love” (Bettye LaVette)
“Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” (Sol Little)
“Tangerine” (J Mascis)
“The Lemon Song” (Jackie Greene)
“Heartbreaker” (Patty Smyth)
“Rock N’ Roll” (Living Colour)
“Good Times Bad Times” (Everyone)
Michael Dorf presents “The Music of Led Zeppelin” at Carnegie Hall.
Photos by Rick Stachura. March 7, 2018.
(1) Erika Wennerstrom of Heartless Bastards.
(3) The Lemon Souls.
(4) Deva Mehal with Binky Griptite of Dap Kings.
(5) Living Colour.
(This story was originally posted to my old Tumblr site on April 25, 2018.)