Six decades into the rock era, we are in the epoch of the tribute act. Which is to say, every act still going is a tribute act.
The Rolling Stones? An act currently paying tribute to their longevity and legacy which, of course, front-loads almost all their best work into the first of their five decades.
Likewise The Beach Boys, The Who, Neil Young, David Bowie, Iggy And The Stooges, Todd Rundgren, ZZ Top, Springsteen, Petty, the punks, The Stone Roses and so on and so on.
‘But what about Dylan?’ you counter. You mean the Dylan who never fails to play an almighty quota of his canonical classics every show? The guy who’s been acting the sprite, shapeshifter, self-rebooter and slippery enigma ever since 1962 and still is? That Dylan…?
Then there are contemporary acts, each of whom, with no exception I can think of, is making a living by paying devoted tribute to a genre, school, handful or thumbful of previous acts. In any description of these acts, you will usually stub your eyeball on the prefix ‘nu-‘. Think Mumford, think Savages, think the really rather fabulous Escort.
Some might say this is symptomatic of the exhaustion of the genre. The vernacular can no longer yield a single new meaning or sound. All the performers can do now is play the old stuff straight or set it to ‘shuffle’. Rock is done. It’s gone beyond perfection and is now stuck in a fugue state of repetition.
Cue brows knotting with consternation as civilization crumbles and the lone and level sands stretch far away.
Me, I’m not that bothered. In fact, I’m rather pleased. Like that little Shadows routine with which the Top’s Billy Gibbons and Dusty Hill amuse the fans as they groove away, rock’n’roll and I are locked in perfect step.
The epoch of the tribute act speaks eloquently to me as a rock fan not much younger than the rock era itself. While rock is currently enjoying a lap of honour so Mexican-wavingly long it’s turning into a marathon, so am I. Like rock itself, I cannot hack originality any more. Now it’s time to milk the legacy, squeeze out the backlog and discharge every other icky-sounding innuendo I can think of before even that option is exhausted.
And so to the Garage in North London to see Lez Zeppelin, an all-fem tribute to the band encapsulated so inimprovably by Charles Shaar Murray as Laura Ashley Does Stalingrad that you cannot deny they were asking for it all along.
While a packed house of punters are rocking, rolling and doing the stroll despite pates and paunches and every other telltale sign of being a real rock fan (as in real ale), the bar staff, half our age, can’t handle it at all, deaf to our beer orders because they’re all wearing earplugs. Kids, eh? At least their grandparents fought a world war not to have to listen to this rubbish.
But it’s not rubbish, you ignorant young puppy. They may not be the real thing but they’re the real deal. Plug yer peepers instead of your shell-likes and the band onstage not 20 feet away really is Led Zeppelin.
These laydeez wail. They wallop. They rock. They manage not only the really difficult — John Paul’s virtuosity and Percy’s lemon-squeezy peals of Dionysian delight — but the almost impossible: the lick for lick, boom-cha for boom-cha simulation of two of the most instantly recognisable but least imitable creators of signature rock sound ever, Pagey and Bonzo.
Then open yer eyes again for the night’s bonus ball. Sexy as the originals were in their stuffed-gusset wizardry, the tribute act are sexier still. Chaps, you’re gonna drool.
So, with their rendition of Kashmir still ringing around my sensorium fully the equal of that with which the originals blew my mind at Earl’s Court in 1975, take a bow, Steph Paynes (guitar, theremin), Leesa Harrington-Squyres (drums), Megan Thomas (bass, mandolin, keyboard) and Shannon Conley (vocals, harmonica). Your time has come.
And don’t just take my word for it, readers. None other than his bad self Jimmy Page was there at the bar, moving, grooving, wearing and tearing from first to last, at curfew time heading to the dressing room like the most smitten stage-door Johnny to pay his respects. Indeed, in a neat analogy of today’s closed circuit rock culture (should one wish to get pseudo-professorial on your ass), he was paying tribute to the tribute being paid to him.
‘That’s one to cross off the bucket list,’ gasped Steph at the pub afterwards.
Lez Zeppelin, playing a club near you. And right now the most exciting rock band in the world.