If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, tribute acts are the religious devotees of music make-believe. One part fan, one part simulacrum, these musicians progress from playing in mere cover bands to forming groups intent on recreating the music and even personalities of their dearly beloved music messiahs.
Google “tribute band” online and it’s apparent which artists are most emulated. Along with protean tribute acts like Elvis Presley and The Beatles, artists like Michael Jackson, ABBA, Queen, Pink Floyd, KISS, AC/DC, Ramones, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and Van Halen are revealed, as is the almost inexorably named Amy Housewine. Weirdly enough, few hip hop tribute acts seem to be working the scene, though there’s an alleged rap-tribute band called Frontbutt out of Charlottesville, Virginia who offer this world a rather boastful-albeit-vague website.
The tribute act domain is a place where admiration, sentimentality, showmanship and (let’s not bullshit ourselves) silliness all intersect. Parody is both common if not encouraged. The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-born four-piece Beatallica has been mashing-up the music of The Beatles and Metallica for nearly 20 years. While the group has received praise from Metallica, Beatallica was slapped with a cease-and-desist by the Beatles’ publishing company in 2005, due to possible copyright violation. Once that legal wrangling was settled, Beatallica was free to release its seminal 2007 debut, Sgt. Hetfield’s Motorbreath Pub Band.
Arguably, one of the more consistently vibrant and evolving areas of the tribute act community is the drag queen stage. There’s a strong mix of adoration and comedy that creates a big table, leaving room for standard tributes like Diana Ross & the Supremes and The Spice Girls, as well as Joyce D’Vision, the first-ever Joy Division transvestitism tribute act. And while they’re not technically a drag queen band, honorable mention must go to GayC/DC-the Los Angeles-based band that injects some much-deserved playful, LGBTQ flavor into the hetero-dude-chest-thump of the music of AC/DC.
Yet all of these groups provide a service as well as entertainment: The earthly population of folks who actually saw The Beatles perform is aging (or dead), but on any given night on this planet, some band is donning Fab Four gear and shaking their dark-haired wigs to the groin-mesmerizing rhythm of “Love Me Do.” Salacious.
When a band is touring at the national-even global-level, talent (or at least musical skill) is a given. After all, in today’s market, what music fan is going to shell out $30 to see a beardless ZZ Top tribute band stumble, flub and hoarsely bark through a rousing rendition of “Tube Snake Boogie”? Ditto verisimilitude: If a white-jumpsuit-wearing ABBA tribute four-piece drops a metal-break-and-freestyle-rap into the middle of “Waterloo,” suspension of disbelief is soon shattered.
This week, Get the Led Out returns to The Florida Theatre. The self-described “American Led Zeppelin,” the Philly-based GTLO offer a mission statement on their site, to bring “The mighty Zep to life on the big concert stage. This is not an impersonator act, but rather a group of musicians who were fans first, striving to do justice to one of the greatest bands in rock history!”
That’s a tall order to fill. The actual Led Zeppelin quartet has sold an estimated 250 million-plus albums. Founding members Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, John Paul Jones and the late John Bonham are as iconic as The Beatles and Rolling Stones. The collective genius of the four members of the band-like most great groups, rock or otherwise-was in squeezing those separate personalities into one, trampling, hard-rock wallop. Every night, Get the Led Out band members are left with the unenviable task of trying to breathe new life into those Zep songs in front of an audience that knows the genetic coding, twist and turn of every melody, lyric and Plant-scream of those very same tunes. The fact that half of those in attendance are about half in the bag from beer and weed doesn’t make those attempts at conjuring up “Kashmir” any easier.
Right out of the gate, Get the Led Out creates possible tribute act heresy with their audacious move to have a seven-member band: vocalist Paul Sinclair, guitarists Paul Hammond and Jimmy Marchiano, bassist Phil D’Agostino, keyboardist Andrew Lipke, drummer Adam Ferraioli and backing vocalist Diana DeSantis.
Unlike their peer/possible nemesis (and heavily worded) ZoSo-The Ultimate Led Zeppelin Experience, Get the Led Out doesn’t “dress up” as Led Zep or affect British accents. Judging by their YouTube presence, they don’t need to. They deliver the goods. That they perform with a gigantic backline of amps surely does not hurt.
Before you head to the gig, we offer a free Folio Weekly tip for you Get the Led Out attendees: While a request for “Stairway to Heaven” will be readily accepted, a shout-out for “Freebird” will be greeted like a drug test at a roadie’s parole party.