Review: Lez Zeppelin at the Ludlow Garage, 12/9/23

I am in Cincinnati so I decided to take a free evening to see Lez Zeppelin at the historic Ludlow Garage.

Lez Zeppelin is an all-woman (well, ¾ woman on the night I saw them) Led Zeppelin tribute band.

So first, let’s talk about tribute bands in general. Though music snobs (ahem) have always looked down on them, I feel like maybe we’ve been too hard on them. If you really like Led Zeppelin’s music and would like to see it performed live, what are your choices? I saw posters for upcoming concerts by an REM tribute band and a Doors tribute band.(ecch). You cannot see any of these bands perform live. So what’s wrong with going out and enjoying a night of music you like? Maybe we should get over ourselves and let people enjoy things.

Now, I’m not the biggest Led Zep fan in the world, but it was fun to see these songs performed live, and holy shit, guitarist Steph Paynes is talented. She and bassist Joan Chew and fill-in drummer introduced only as Dave (there is a nonzero chance he was actually Rob Zombie, but I could see the skin of his arms between tattoos, so I’m guessing not) rocked the shit out of classic Zep songs. I really enjoyed hearing these songs live without Jimmy Page’s (admittedly fantastic) production and being reminded that Zep started life as a hard-rockin garage band before they achieved stadium rock titan status.

But then there was vocalist Marlain Angelidies. In the case of a gender-flipped band, you don’t have to try to actually impersonate the voice or stage persona of the original band, which is good, but the danger of a woman vocalist aiming at Robert Plant is that she’s going to hit Ann Wilson. Which is what happened here.

I got over that after a few songs, but the big issue for me was that Angelidies seemed out of sync with the rest of the band, energy-wise. The band was doing a hard rocking club show, whereas Angelidies was giving Broadway energy. Like, if they do a Led Zep jukebox musical on Broadway, she should definitely star in it. But I didn’t think she was a great fit for the kind of performance the rest of the band was putting on.

And then there’s the problem of the source material. No one alive, including Robert Plant himself, can sell that darkest depths of Mordor bullshit in 2023. When Plant wasn’t ripping off an array of blues artists, he wasn’t much of a lyricist. I’ve always thought of Plant’s vocals as just one more instrument in the mix and not really tried too hard to understand what he was singing. But because Angelidies was far less screechy and unintelligible than 70’s Plant, the words were really clear, and, I mean, Gollum and the evil one crept up and slipped away with her. (That sounds like one hell of a polycule).

Also, of course, Led Zep dipped their toes into the prog rock waters, so Lez Zeppelin did too. We got a ten-minute (I’m guessing. It felt like 45) Dazed and Confused which featured about three minutes of Paynes noodling around on the guitar with a cello bow. It made me want to start a punk band.

And I guess you’re either the kind of rock and roll fan who thinks a double-necked guitar is cool or the kind who thinks only members of Spinal Tap should play such a ridiculous instrument. I’m firmly in the latter camp, but a guy near me gasped with glee, naming the model of the twin-necked monstrosity when the guitar tech brought it out. So to each their own, I guess. (For some reason Steph Payne only played on one neck of the double necked guitar, which made it clear the point was more about displaying the instrument than any pressing musical need for two necks.

Special shoutout to the animations playing behind the band on two massive screens. These were actually very cool and really enhanced the experience. Probably would have been doubly cool if one were high. (I was not.)

I also really appreciated that they saved Stairway for the encore, which meant I could leave before I had to hear it. Seriously never want to hear that song again as long as I live.

Ludlow Garage is a historic venue that was not open in my teen years when I lived in Cincinnati, so this was my first trip there. The sound is good, but it’s a pretty horrible venue otherwise. Set up like a basement club, but instead of a floor with a few tables in the back, you’ve got two 50-row sections of movie theater seats. Weird. Security chucked a guy out for dancing too enthusiastically and menaced another for getting out of his seat, and it was only when the band told us that they’d like it if we stood that we dared get up.

Probably a good place to see a singer songwriter or something where you’re expected to sit appreciatively, but a very anti-rock-and-roll space. Which really profanes the original Jockey Club sign, which they’ve got hanging upstairs.