Keith St. John as Robert Plant performs Saturday night at the Weinberg Center for the Arts. (Photo by Karen Peacock. For more of her work, visit her website).
Note: The below story was written by Karen Valentine. We would love to add a few links to places you might be able to find her on the Internet … but she doesn’t have a website, Twitter account or Facebook page, and for that, friends, she should probably be commended.
Led Zepplica performed at the Weinberg Center for the Arts in Frederick on Saturday and for many of us, it felt like Led Zeppelin had reunited. I say this sincerely as a baby boomer who had the privilege of seeing Led Zeppelin perform live back in 1972 when they played at the Baltimore Civic Center (now the Baltimore Arena): What I learned most Saturday night was that there truly is a difference between a tribute band and a cover band.
Billed as “one of the most successful Led Zeppelin tribute bands on the planet,” and touring nationally and internationally, Led Zepplica doesn’t merely cover popular Zeppelin songs —they become Led Zeppelin. When I closed my eyes to immerse myself in what I was hearing, I felt transported back to that concert in 1972 (minus the pungent aroma of the happiness herb). Led Zepplica is filling the void that many fans have felt since Zeppelin stopped touring in 1980. These four tribute musicians are devoted students of the original players and they are masters of their respective roles.
Keith St. John, who portrays iconic frontman Robert Plant, has perfected the various mannerisms of early Plant on stage, from the long-flowing gold locks and open print shirt, exposing a bare chest, to the way Plant holds a microphone. Did St. John sound like Plant? Yes. I wondered how old this guy was and when he became a Zeppelin disciple. Why? Because Led Zeppelin had probably stopped touring before St. John was even born. Lenny Mann as Jimmy Page was a guitar virtuoso, his skill absolutely brilliant. Darryl Johnson as the late drummer John Bonham commanded on drums, and Johnny Bruhns as John Paul Jones thumped the bass with the same precision as Jones, also displaying his equal proficiency with keyboards and mandolin.
I interviewed guitarist Mann (Jimmy Page) a week earlier and asked him if we Frederick fans could expect to hear some of Zeppelin’s lesser-known tracks from their significant catalogue, songs that are familiar only to die-hard fans. He told me it all depended upon the venue. Based on his answer, I was hopeful that along with the better-known songs, we would be treated to some tracks that hadn’t been prominently played on Top 40 radio or movie soundtracks. I was not disappointed.
I suspected that the group would open their set with “Immigrant Song” from “Led Zeppelin III” and they did. The crowd was already hyped and ready to go, and the opening number set the tone for an incredible energy that permeated throughout the group’s performance. They went on to play selected tracks from the first six Zeppelin albums (“Led Zeppelin I,” “Led Zeppelin II,” “Led Zeppelin III,” “Led Zeppelin IV,” “Houses of the Holy” and “Physical Graffiti”). Selections included “Black Dog,” “Rock and Roll” and “The Ocean.”
Mann performed the bow-on-guitar technique, made famous my Page decades earlier, on “Dazed and Confused.” Bruhns (on mandolin) teamed with Mann (on acoustic guitar) and St. John for an acoustic performance of “Going to California” from “Led Zeppelin IV.” The crowd had been begging for it and the band obliged.
Johnson drove the audience into a frenzy with his passionate drum solo on “Moby Dick,” which a very vocal section of the audience had been screaming for from the start. (Okay, I wanted to hear “Moby Dick,” too.) The group then concluded their set with “Kashmir,” inviting all to get up and dance if they wished, but not before a moving performance of the perennial favorite “Stairway to Heaven.”
This is also worth noting: While the audience was overwhelmingly baby boomer, I also saw millennials and teens fill the crowd. I even noticed a young kid at one point (with Grandpa perhaps?). And plenty of women (it’s good to know I’m not the only female “Led Head”). The music of Led Zeppelin appeals to very diverse groups. My hope is that Led Zepplica, a Ventura, California-based band, will be persuaded from the love shown to them by Frederick fans to return to our fair city — or at the very least to the region (perhaps Rams Head in Annapolis or Pier 6 in Baltimore). Whatever venue they choose, I will definitely plan on being there.