by Jessica Carreras
FERNDALE – Shannon Conley of Lez Zepplin must be a Shakira fan.
At their Dec. 4 show at Ferndale’s Magic Bag, the lead singer of the all-female tribute band’s hips didn’t lie – and they sure were talking.
Belying the quartet’s lady-loving label, the audience was more 40-something-straight-man than lesbian. Conley’s sexed-up performance – complete with relentless navel baring and gyrations – would’ve made even the She Wolf herself blush. And the crowd – gay or straight – ate it up.
But don’t be fooled: the New York-based group, led by guitarist Steph Paynes (the group’s only original member), didn’t get popular through flashy showmanship. Hips or not, the music was still the main draw.
Casual fans of the group’s namesake (’70s rockers Led Zeppelin, for those in the class who are a little behind) may not have gotten what they expected at the Magic Bag, but they got a good show. At Friday’s performance – which, loyal fans will tell you, was a routine rock-out – cop-out regurgitations of “Stairway to Heaven” and “Black Dog” were absent. Instead, the Lez ladies brought some of the group’s more obscure songs to the forefront, like the adrenaline-pumping opener “Nobody’s Fault But Mine” and “Dazed and Confused,” for which Paynes played a five-minute guitar solo. With a violin bow.
Winding guitar licks, heavy, complicated drums (kudos to Leesa Squyres, who seemed to channel John Bonham’s ability directly) and eerie, almost incomprehensible lyrics all made their appearances.
The group slowed it down for a drum-free duo of acoustic songs, during which Paynes and bassist/keyboardist Megan Thomas shared mandolin duties. The set quieted down the usually rowdy crowd with haunting vocals and echoing solos before launching back into the hard rock sound they wore so well.
For concertgoers like me – born after Led Zeppelin’s break up but raised by parents with a healthy love of rock ‘n’ roll – seeing this band is about as close as a 20- or 30-something could hope to get to the real thing.
Everything about the show – from the band’s outfits to the music to the long-haired, leather-jacket-wearing audience – seemed to be taken straight from the period of rock music it sought to emulate (There may even have been – ahem – a bit of the ’70s penchant for joint-passing present at Friday’s show. Yeah, you know who you are).
But Lez Zeppelin is much more than a tribute band. The look and sound are borrowed, fittingly, but the experience of seeing them live is no $50-an-hour wedding band. If Led Zeppelin’s music was written by and for men in a totally different era, you wouldn’t know it listening to this women-run group. And I highly doubt Robert Plant could shake his booty like that.