Given the nature of the tribute band game, acts usually wow or disgust. There's not much room for gray area. When it comes to the real legends and the emotional attachments fans have to their records, bands like Led Zeppelin, it's go big or go home.
For example, "Achilles Last Stand," one of Zeppelin's most metal moments in my opinion, taught me about machine gun drums. "No Quarter" catapulted me into a 10-year foray of classical piano competition. "Since I've Been Loving You" made me fall in love, and "Black Dog" reminds me of high school summers and hot desert breezes, mingling with sweet acrid smoke from burning papers.
As a working tribute band for almost 12 years, LZ2 has the band's sound down to an artful science. But what stands out about the members is the acharade that is their live performance. Stepping into the roles of Robert Plant (Bruce Lamont), Jimmy Page (Paul Kamp), John Bonham (Ian Lee) and John Paul Jones (Chris Klein), LZ2 have honed their act to represent all the iconic elements from the band's heyday -- not to mention they all resemble their counterparts -- while incorporating some of their own touches along the way to provide a snapshot of Led Zeppelin for a younger generation.
After all, if Metallica's own Kirk Hammet can declare, "These guys sound fucking exactly like Led Zeppelin!" then they're probably worth your while.
Up On The Sun sat down with Bruce Lamont, who plays the role of Robert Plant, to discuss what tunes are the most difficult to emulate, his earliest recollections of Zeppelin, and how he never saw the band live.
Up On The Sun: So. What type of balls does it take to step out into Robert Plant's shoes, voted by NPR as one of the 50 Great Voices in the World?
Bruce Lamont: The band started 11 years ago, our version of it, so I've been trying to, if anything, just humbly try to do justice to his voice and legacy. There's no daily ritual or anything, short of a couple beers before a show.
How long have you studied the band and their music, personally?
It was for fun at first when we started this band, but as time went on, it became something we really wanted to do and take pride in it properly. For years I just studied recordings, really listening to the studio verses of the songs they did. And with all that information, take it in, internalize it, then kind of represent a Plant that I think people can recognize in a sense you know? His voice changed over the years while he was in the band. So jump from say, a song from 1971 to a song from 1979, it's almost a different person, a different voice in a lot of respects. Actually, his voice would change from throughout songs he would do in the earlier eras. When performing them in later years, he would sing them however he felt he wanted to. I don't think for myself, I don't have that luxury. I think people wanna hear "Black Dog" in a particular way. I try to do that as much as possible or try to stay true to the songs and the sounds that folks would want to hear.
When did you first hear Zeppelin?
When I first heard Zeppelin I was really young. Some of my earliest recollections of life are of Led Zeppelin, and were all around my existence as a kid. It has been a musical force my entire life. My sister sent me a photo of my birthday cake when I was 15 that had the Led Zeppelin I album cover on it saying happy birthday to me, so that was awesome. I mean, I'm not obsessed with them or anything, but they have been a part of my entire life.
And how long have you been stalking them?
[Laughs] No, I have no desire to stalk them.
With such a wide array of classic tracks from Zeppelins catalog, how do you guys choose what songs you're going to perform?
We're kind of into MMA style fighting, so after soundcheck we throw down, and whoever ends up on top can pick the set list. And I throw down really hard, so usually I get to pick the set list. And of course I'm kidding [laughs]. Really though, it is a difficult process, because we have such a love for the music and we also want to play some things that people want to hear and we take that into consideration, but we're more into the like, not your everyday Zeppelin standards, so it's like we also want to put in as many of those as we can. It's a process for sure. But, we don't do a whole lot of stuff from In Through the Out Door. It's not that we don't like that album, but it's just something we haven't really done. And we all agree that our favorite record is Physical Graffiti so we focus around there a lot.
You've said in past interviews that it's one thing to emulate the band live and know the songs, but it's another to breathe life into the big picture of the music and performance. Is that something you can elaborate on a little bit?
Yeah, so we're all from original bands and I have other bands I do and stuff, so, to me, it's still a creative endeavor. Even though we're playing someone elses' music, it still has to have that personality. Yeah, you can regurgitate songs that sound exactly the way they were performed on record, but that's not what Led Zeppelin did live, they were themselves. So, like I said, this isn't just about doing your homework and listening to the recordings, it's kind of, you know, taking our own little spin of the whole thing. It's still very Zeppelin-esque obviously man, the goal is for it to be recognizable. But once you get into it, there's some deep ... the music is deeply emotive. After all these years, I have some strong ties to it. So that's how we go about and get into it and breathe life into it. And we use some liberties, you know, Zeppelin always did way longer versions of songs, like 20 minute versions. We don't necessarily regurgitate the songs the exact way they are recorded or performed. Sorry....I'm confusing myself. I have a little buzz going on. Laughter
What's your favorite Led Zep song to perform?
I have a handful. I liked "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You" and I like doing "Tangerine," which every once in awhile is a special treat because one of our guitar friends will step in and play with us, which is cool. Like uh, the "The Lemon Song" is fun "Achilles Last Stand" has been our kinda, uh, staple cut that we do. Some people come to shows just to hear that and then leave.
What was one of the most difficult songs to learn for you, or as a band? I'm sure it's been awhile because you guys learned them when you're younger, before touring.
Yeah, but once you get into that stuff, it's a whole different thing. You think you know stuff then once you start performing it you're like whoa, it's a lot more complex than that. "The Rain Song" was difficult, not impossible though. Oh yeah, and "Since I've Been Loving You" was a song early on that I loved it, but me personally, I just never really got it. It was really weird, all the sudden it kinda clicked. And now we play it every night. It's sort of a showstopper in a sense. It just really works.
Yeah, it's that type of uniqueness that fans love. What's something you've learned about the band or Robert Plant that a lot of fans wouldn't know?
Well, his vocal style I was just talking about was one thing. I think he has a real....unique sense of designing. His timing overall really, the way he approaches his songs is not ... it's not the way I would do it creatively in my other bands. The way I approach things in metal and other rock projects ... not trying to say anything should be standardized but he does have a different feel than any other vocalist out there. He's very intelligent and very thoughtful in his approach. His songwriting is very personal and listeners can tell. You can tell he is deeply committed to what he is seeing, saying and the delivery of it all. To me, it's like, whoa, really unique and incredible.
How many times have you seen them live?
Really? I was curious about that.
Yeah, I've never seen the. Not for any reason in particular. I wanted to see them but just didn't have a chance to. I had a really neat situation where I had a friend in a production company who wanted us to meet: Plant meeting Plant. I was like cool.
So did you guys meet?
No! I was touring in another band. He called me up said he wanted Plant to meet Plant and I was like, "Ah! You fucker. I'm in Sweden."
Speaking of the real Robert Plant, do you guys get Led Zeppelin groupies who want you to be in character?
Hmm. No, but we were in Boston recently and all these really young girls wanted me to go back to their hotel and told me to leave the wig on at their door. I was like shut up! Leave the wig on? Role playing is fun, but come on! [Laughs]
Well it shouldn't be that surprising!
I think that reality show of this band would be awesome. Not only is what we do on a daily basis as a band kinda funny, but what we see is even more insane. I've seen it all. Girls trying to rip us off the stage to make out with and stuff?
Any current bands out there that you think have the potential to become legends?
No. It's not that time any more for that kind of stuff. I don't know if it can really, truly ever happen again. I'm sure record companies would love it because of the money. But the whole model of record sales, I don't know if it can be put together. Unless it is commercial garbage. And that's not Zeppelin. They were at a time where creative music was champion you know, for the masses too, big audiences. That's not happening right now. I work at an indie rock club in Chicago called Empty Bottle and I see a lot of up and coming things and the stuff I'm seeing is kinda of soulless and average. Nothing that could peak like Zeppelin had or did.
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I don't know if you've opened a magazine in the past a couple months but it's like, when you see that the 20th anniversary of Nevermind is being celebrated and I was like, this is sad! It's an amazing record and band, but we have to go back 20 years to find a band that good. If you had asked me that question in 1991 when I was working at a record store, I would've told you that there were 20 bands that are gonna be huge. Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc. I would've told you that then. That doesn't exist now at all. So now you have to go see old farts dressed up in costumes. But we play it tough and we play it hard.
Led Zeppelin 2 is scheduled to perform Wednesday, November 9, at Foundry on First.