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Gonna make you sweat

The all-female Led Zeppelin tribute band can rock 'n' roll, even if it falls short of the original's musicianship.

September 29, 2007|Greg Burk | Special to The Times

Close your eyes and you were still only listening to a pretty good imitation of Led Zeppelin. Nothing wrong with that.

And you might as well have kept them open; watching the four young women called Lez Zeppelin at El Rey Theater on Thursday night was considerably easier on the peepers than the retina-scarring experience that will greet fans when 3 1/2 members of the original Led Zeppelin reunite in London in November in tribute to the late Atlantic Records chief Ahmet Ertegun.

The hardest thing to copy is a voice, so singer Sarah McLellan didn't try. She seemed to be singing an octave below Robert Plant's range, her pipes warming with a soulful glow that contrasted strongly with Plant's fairy-dust yowl. Guitarist Steph Paynes, on the other hand, cloned Jimmy Page's sunburst Les Paul, Marshall amp, edgy tone and head-averted stance with photographic accuracy, falling a bit short only when shreddin' time came around.

Drawing from a catalog as wide and deep as Zeppelin's, the Lez crew could tailor selections to its own strengths, which leaned toward the slow-grooving and folky side. The creeping blues "Since I've Been Loving You" smoldered; "The Ocean" thumped authoritatively; "Ramble On" struck a good balance of briskness and punch.

An acoustic segment revolving around the strummy, upbeat "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" and a Zeppified original number from the copycuties' debut album found them at their most relaxed, while the tempo shifts of an extended "Dazed and Confused" came off with explosive potency, complete with psychedelic bowed guitar. Paynes even brought some theremin hocus-pocus to the classic hip-thrusting freakout "Whole Lotta Love."

With the elfin Lisa Brigantino switching from bass to keyboards, "Kashmir" didn't quite hang together, its majesty undercut by sloppy changes. "Rock and Roll" did just that until Paynes' shambolic solo.

In the crucial category of drums, Helen Destroy was masterful, her rhythms heavy, steady and often a little slower than the originals -- an approach that served to focus attention on the strength of Page's compositions. She was, however, no John Bonham on the "Moby Dick" solo.

Though Lez Zeppelin lacked something in, shall we say, presence, McLellan presented an inviting front and Paynes radiated musicianly cool. These New Yorkers are operating with credible sanction: Led Zeppelin engineer Eddie Kramer (present in the audience) worked on their album, as did George Marino, who oversaw Lez's remastering as he'd done with Led's. They deserve it.

And no, Lez Zeppelin did not play "Stairway to Heaven." Thank God.

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