Local Rhythms – Led Zeppelin “Idol”

The latest news for the Zeppelin-obsessed came last week, when Aerosmith’s Brad Whitford revealed that Steven Tyler recently jammed with Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones and Jason Bonham in a London studio.

Don’t read too much into it, though.

Tyler idolized bands like the Yardbirds, Cream and Zeppelin back in his Sunapee Barn days, so I’m sure he had a fantastic time. But Whitford says Page’s high-powered invite was really designed to goad Robert Plant into touring.

“He was trying to light a fire under Robert,” Whitford told a British TV host. “Come on! Come on, Robert, let’s go!”

God bless him, Plant didn’t bite. A statement on the singer’s web site called the rumors “both frustrating and ridiculous.”

For that, he’s still my hero.

Jones, however, who seethed when Page/Plant made “Unledded” in the mid-90’s without him, is fixated on a classic rock payday. “But we don’t want to be our own tribute band,” the bassist told the BBC.

To which I reply, why not?  Boston plucked their new lead singer from a karaoke bar; Journey found Steve Perry’s doppelganger on YouTube.

More recently, Yes replaced the ailing Jon Anderson with Benoit David, who until the call came had been fronting – you guessed it – a Yes tribute band.

This could make for great reality television. I know, INXS did it on “Rock Star,” but their lead singer was dead.

Robert Plant is very much alive, and apparently doesn’t have any plans for the next couple of years beyond a possible follow-up to “Raising Sand,” the album he made with Allison Krauss.

Though he may not be interested in playing with Led Zeppelin, perhaps Plant could be coaxed into helping pick his replacement.

Picture it – with dreams of stadium shows filling their heads, cover bands count off “Whole Lotta Love” with renewed vigor.

Aging rockers clear out garage practice space, and once again squeeze into ripped old bell bottomed jeans – all for a chance at the top.

High drama ensues when Plant, weary of these Golden God wannabes, says, “sod it all, I’ll do it myself,” and then demurs.

As each hopeful takes a shot, real time ticket price estimates crawl across the screen like a Dow Jones report.  That, after all, is the reason for the exercise.  How much will fans pay to see this farce?

I’ve got a better idea – save your money, and check out some local talent:

Thursday: Jason Cann, Casa del Sol – When this newly opened Ascutney restaurant was known as Moguls in the 1980s, it hosted bands like Foghat and Marshall Tucker. The live music tradition continues weekly with Cann, one of my favorite local singer-songwriters, and in January, Wise Rokobili will perform Saturdays.   There are plans to present even bigger names in the future – good news indeed.

Friday: Red Molly, Boccelli’s – This trio, who met around a Falcon Ridge campfire a few years back, has built an avid area following since playing the Roots on the River festival in 2007.  Their gorgeous harmonies can take your breath away. I could watch them for hours.  Upper Valley fans got a taste of them last summer. If you like smooth, elegant folk music, you’ll love Red Molly.

Saturday: Bob Marley, Claremont Opera House – One of the funniest people alive, and the hardest working comedian I know is back for another area show.  Unlike many comics, Bob brings a new set of material every time he comes to town.  He can form a bit in his head in the morning and have it audience-ready by the time he walks on stage, riffing on current events, his parents (who must love the exposure), and life in New England -the essence of Ha!

Sunday: Nine Inch Nails, Worcester Centrum – I don’t typically plug many arena shows, but it’s worth noting that as the music business implodes, NIN (who play in Manchester Saturday) is thriving.  Why?  Leader Trent Reznor does right by the fans.   He gives away entire albums on the band’s web site, has no label and kowtows to no bosses.  He keeps things interesting and never forgets the reason for his success – and NIN sells out everywhere they appear.

Tuesday: Dartmouth Wind Symphony, Spaulding Auditorium – Highbrow music from an ensemble celebrating its 25th year with founder/director Max Culpepper.  This show features selections from Aida, Carmen, Madame Butterfly, the Marriage of Figaro and other masterpieces, arranged for flute, clarinet, trumpet and other wind instruments.

Wednesday: Off the Beaten Path, Woodstock Town Hall Theatre – Subtitled “A Jazz Tap Odyssey,” this program joins a jazz quartet consisting of piano, bass, drums and woodwinds with a company of six tap dancers.  They perform a program inspired by proto-environmentalist author Rachel Carson.  There’s a special “Arts In Education” program for school kids at 12:30, and a public performance at 7:30.

Tim Sample & Bob Marley – A Tale of Two Mainers

bob.jpgComedy fans have a chance to see two examples of Down East humor in the coming weeks.  Tim Sample performs this Saturday at the Newport Opera House, and funny man Bob Marley returns to the Claremont Opera House the following Saturday. 

But these two Mainers each take distinctly different approaches to their craft.  Sample’s folksy observations come straight from the pages of Yankee Magazine, a “Prairie Home Companion” with rocky beaches.  He riffs genially on clueless tourists and delusional transplants – the ones who believe that 40 or 50 years in-state has earned them the right to be called natives.

“It don’t work like that theyah,” scoffs a pitch perfect Sample, who once made a disc called “How to Talk Yankee” with Bob Bryan of “Bert and I.” 

In fact, after Marshal Dodge (the other half of “Bert and I”) died in 1982, Sample worked with Bryan to carry on the duo’s humorous tradition.  Together, they recorded four CDs.

“Every now and then Bobby and I still perform onstage together,” says Sample.  “Whenever we do I am privileged to join him for some of the original stories he and Marshall made famous (“The Body in th’ Kelp,” “The Lighter Than Air Balloon”) and we always do some of the classic material from “How to Talk Yankee.” 

His wink-and-a-nod anthropology pokes plenty of fun at the “born, live and die in Maine” crowd, but Sample’s comedy stays comfortably within his home state’s borders.

Bob Marley is also a native (born in Portland), but the similarities with Sample end there.   

“In all the years I’ve been doing this, I’ve only run into Tim once.  We travel in different circles,” says Marley, with a thick, unmistakable accent.  “I do a lot of clubs, road houses and one-nighters.”

Someone who’s never set foot in Maine can easily get their brain (and funny bone) around Marley’s stand-up routine.  It’s an everyman revue of daily life – family, friends and supermarket hijinx – familiar to all, regardless of where they were born. 

Marley’s constantly at work on new material.  With over 200 appearances a year, he’d probably go crazy otherwise.  He promises an entirely different show next Saturday.  “You know the Vegas dancer who’s been doing the same routine night after night, looking at her nails while she’s on stage? You can practically read her mind: ‘did I do my laundry?’ I never want to be her,” he says.

These days, his mind is on the season and its’ oddities.   “Fall’s kind of a hassle. I never know how to dress,” he says.  “In the morning, it’s 12 degrees, and by afternoon I’m sweating like Mike Tyson at a spelling bee.  I’m ripping off my clothes like a stripper, down to a thong and pasties.” 

“And what’s the deal with gourds?” he asks.  “Who decided we should put these things on our table?  They’re like squash with herpes.”

How about the Red Sox?  “I know they’re doing wicked good, and they have a great pitcher named Suzuki Kawasaki or something,” he says.  “But if I have to hear Jerry Remy try to speak Japanese one more time, I’m gonna shoot myself in the head. Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto? Jeez!” 

Marley has a new CD of stand-up material (his 12th, along with 5 DVDs) due next month.  His half-hour Comedy Central special last February was so well received that the network is negotiating with him to do a full hour.

Marley moved back to Maine after a few years of chasing fame in California to do east coast comedy full-time, and he’s built a nice franchise.  Lately, however, he’s feeling the lure of Hollywood.  He recently returned to L.A. for work on a DirecTV project, a pilot with fellow comedians Bob Saget, Dom Irrera and Jon Lovitz called “Comedy Justice.”  The show is patterned after “Judge Judy” and “People’s Court,” but with comedians as lawyers. 

But he loves his life here too much to move back.  “If they can put something on tape and be done with it, that’s fine,” he says, “but I’d have to think hard about doing a series.” 

Why would he want to?  He packs houses from Maine to Maryland.  His Manchester shows have drawn so well, there’s talk of playing the Verizon Center next time around. 

As for Claremont, Marley says, “I’m psyched – I had such a great time there last time.”  In January, he played to a sold out house, and lingered in the lobby for over an hour after the show, signing CDs and posters for fans.  For Saturday’s show, he’s bringing George Hamm.  “He gets the crowd going from zero to sixty in nothing flat,” says Marley.  “He headlines in Boston.  He could do that in any room, so it’s great to have him opening for me.”

Bob Marley Can’t Help It – He’s Funny

bobmarley2a.jpgComedian Bob Marley couldn’t stop being funny if he tried. Case in point: Marley begins a phone interview Tuesday with small talk about the unseasonable winter. So far, so good. But if you could look down the line, you’d spot a mischievous gleam in his eye.

“If I see Al Gore,” he says, “I want to tell him hey, New England’s been freezing for the last thousand years. You can globally warm us for as long as you want. Bring it on!”

Marley, who performs Saturday, January 20 at the Claremont Opera House, found his calling early on. He was listening to George Carlin and Richard Pryor albums as a child, and he’s been a pro at cracking wise for 15 years now, claiming he can’t help himself. If he didn’t have an audience, Marley says, “I’d still be in Shaw’s trying to convince the checkout guy that I’m funny.”

The Maine native may joke about the weather, but he’s here to stay. Last year, Marley moved back to Portland from California, where for 11 years, he chased the modern comic’s dream, the network sitcom. That didn’t happen, but he did hit the Hollywood trifecta – appearances on the Leno and Letterman shows, and a movie. Marley’s ‘Detective Greenly’ role in “Boondock Saints” won him good critical notices.

But he soon grew weary of Left Coast life. “After a while, I realized I don’t want to be an actor, I want to be a comedian,” says Marley. “Living in L.A. stalls your act horribly. Every time you’re on stage you’re under the scrutiny of who might be at the back of the room.“

“I feel at home in New England,” he says, where the crowds tend to understand his favorite bits about Poland Spring water (“Protected by nature? Yeah, right next to Mechanics Falls!”), Billy Squier concerts at the Cumberland County Civic Center, and Maine’s preferred security device, “the two-by-four lodged in the bottom of a sliding glass door.”

Since returning to Maine, he’s released a combo CD/DVD of his stand-up act. He’s become a regular guest on radio stations from Washington, D.C. to Barre, Vermont. In December, he completed “Comedy Central Presents: Bob Marley” at Broadway’s Hudson Theatre in New York City; the half-hour special airs February 2.

Marley also welcomed his third child, a son, into the world last November. “It’s crazy,” he says. “Apparently, the other two kids still need stuff! Three days after we got home, the six-year old says, ‘Daddy, can I have a glass of water?’ I said, ‘I just gave you one two days ago. You’re not like a house plant, just gonna pick it up from there?’ Come on, get with it.”

Much of his material comes from his home life, and Marley’s favorite target is often himself. “It’s kind of like at the end of the day, what else can go wrong with Bob? It puts the audience at ease,” he says.

“People are always thinking, ‘don’t make fun of me.’ Don’t worry,” Marley says. “I’ve got enough of my own problems, I’m not coming after you.”

Though he does use his own family as fodder, he sometimes has to be careful. He recently likened marriage to comparison shopping at Best Buy. “When I get home, I don’t remember the other TV on the showroom floor. It’s kind of like when you get married,” he said. You don’t think about the set you didn’t buy. “You just sit there with the same miserable TV night after night. Sometimes the screen sags, the picture gets a little wider, or you try to turn it on and it won’t warm up, and sometimes it gets stuck on the same channel, saying the same thing, over and over.”

His wife took a bit of umbrage to the analogy. So now he’s quick to point out , “I’m very happy with my small, perky television,” adding praise for the fine chassis.

He’s a fan of political humor – “Jon Stewart is hilarious,” he says – but doesn’t work much of it into his act. “I’ll do current events, if it’s funny, but I don’t get involved with who’s who.” A typical topical joke centers on the process of voting, not the candidates. “I don’t like going into the booth,” says Marley, “I would rather fill out the ballot in the lobby. I’ll play around in there; I’ll stick my head outside the curtain and say, ‘can you bring me a pair of 34/32’s? These ones are too tight.”

Marley considers himself lucky for the professional life he leads. If he ever does get a network deal, he’ll try to film it in Maine. Whatever happens, he’ll be a stand-up comic.

“There are lot of guys who aren’t content with just doing this,” says Marley. “They’re missing it. No matter how famous you get, you’ll keep coming back to this. You can’t walk away from it.”