Now, 40 years since legendary rock group Led Zeppelin threw in the towel following the tragic death of its drummer John Bonham, there’s a great many people who weren’t fortunate enough to see the group in concert. For some, they simply never managed to see one of the band’s live performances, while others have no memory of the band’s heyday because they were born too late.
The mission of Ventura county’s Led Zeppelin tribute band Led Zepplica is to serve those people by recreating what one of the group’s 1970s shows would have been like on a smaller, more intimate scale, which it will do when it takes the stage of SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on March 20.
According to guitarist Lenny Mann, he and lead vocalist Keith St. John, bassist Johnny Bruhns, and drummer Darryl Johnson approach their concerts not simply as an opportunity to play Led Zeppelin songs, but to capture the spirit of what the band’s live performances were truly like. This entails using the same instruments and equipment the band used and dressing up in the same outfits that lead singer Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and Mr. Bonham wore onstage. As Led Zepplica’s version of Jimmy Page, onstage Mr. Mann wears the Zeppelin guitarist’s dragon suit, a matching set of black pants and jacket with a chinese dragon ostentatiously emblazoned on its sleeves and legs. More importantly than the clothes, though, Led Zepplica plays live the same way that Zeppelin did. Combining Led Zeppelin’s hits with deeper cuts, a Led Zepplica setlist contains versions of those songs the band played in concert rather than their studio counterparts. Mr. Mann’s favorites to play live include “Thank You” from Led Zeppelin’s sophomore album “Led Zeppelin II,” and the epics “Dazed and Confused” and “No Quarter” from it’s eponymous debut record and fifth album “Houses of the Holy,” respectively. Though some may feel it’s played more than enough, Led Zepplica, like all Zeppelin tribute bands, can’t get away with leaving out the group’s defining song, “Stairway to Heaven.”
“Of course we have to do ‘Stairway’ as well, that’s kind of a given,” he said.
Mr. Mann has been a constant member of Led Zepplica for its approximately 20 year history. He was first recruited into the band by Mr. Johnson, also an original member, because the drummer thought Mr. Mann’s guitar style was akin to Mr. Page’s. Agreeing that there is a similarity, even when he’s not playing Led Zeppelin songs, Mr. Mann told the News-Press that it’s all because his guitar influences include Mr. Page as well as the blues guitarists who inspired the Led Zeppelin founder.
“I have a very blues-oriented background. Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters, I listen to all the old blues players. Even Jimmy Page himself and Eric Clapton, those are all my childhood heroes,” he said.
In its two decades of playing the Led Zeppelin ouvre, Led Zepplica has traveled all around the world to perform in places like Russia, India, and Chile, throughout which Mr. Mann has noticed that audiences’ favorite songs differ from one place to another. When the band played one of its first concerts in India, for instance, Mr. Mann recalled how the crowd went crazy for the mystical, eastern-flavored “Kashmir,” to which they respond similarly each time Led Zepplica returns to the country. Regardless of which songs happen to be local favorites, wherever Led Zepplica goes the crowds sing along whether the individuals therein can speak English or not.
“It’s the universal appeal of Led Zeppelin,” Mr. Mann said. “We’ve been to other countries and wherever we go they know the words, they all have their favorite songs they shout out.”
Beyond the instruments, look, and music, recreating the feel of a ‘70s Led Zeppelin concert demands chemistry between Mr. Mann and his bandmates just like that which made Mr. Page, Mr. Plant, Mr. Jones, and Mr. Bonham a formidable live unit. It is this element that Mr. Mann hopes SOhO’s audience leaves the show recognizing above all else.
“Hopefully they can see the chemistry, which is what Zeppelin was famous for, the chemistry they had onstage,” he said.
Tickets for Led Zepplica’s March 20 concert at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club cost between $12 and $15 and can be purchased online at www.sohosb.com. Doors to the venue will open at 8 p.m. and the show will start at 9 p.m.