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.

Robert Plant Tells Village Voice: No Zep Tour

Great Village Voice Interview with Robert Plant, though it’s a bit dated.

Given the certitude of Mr. Plant’s statements, and the jubilation he displayed at last Thursday’s Boston show, I’d say these sentiments still hold.  Rumors fly on the Internets, but Robert Plant is on a mission that has nothing to do with Led Zeppelin:

“I mean, there are so many situations that I wouldn’t want to tour in now, because I may have visited certain areas of music too often to actually be excited.”

“… touring for the sake of touring, for me, after all these years, is just pointless. I have to be excited. … You can’t just borrow the Stones’ plane,” Plant says. “It’s got to have a creative kernel of endeavor and whatever it is, otherwise it won’t work, because Zep was about that.”

“I mean, if you want the quick tug,” he continues, “if you want the $5 massage or the happy ending, you know exactly how to get that. That’s a pointless exercise. For me, I just want to do stuff where at the end of the night, I can turn and look at the people I’m working with and go, ‘That was not just an achievement—it was one of the most heart-rending experiences I’ve had.'”

A pointless exercise – I agree, Robert – I hope the next time through you play a better venue than the BofA (or whatever bank/telecom buys it by the next time you tour) Amphitheatre.  The sound was awful.

Local Rhythms – Say It Ain’t So, Bob

I used to believe in rock and roll, until it became a commodity in a numbers game. So when Led Zeppelin reunited last year for a one-off London show, I waited for the inevitable announcement of an annuity tour, a la McCartney or the Stones.

Football stadiums with parking pricier than tickets used to be, zillionaires in luxury boxes, and fans spending more time bragging on cell phones than watching the show.

Rumors followed, but the only real Zeppelin news was Robert Plant hitting the road with Alison Krauss (the tour hits Boston June 5).

That made me smile. Money is king, but a member in the pantheon of rock’s immortal bands chose another path.

Forget “Stairway to Heaven” – Plant was having more fun playing bluegrass and covering old Everly Brothers songs to care about a big payday.

With “Raising Sand,” the album he recorded with Krauss on the iconoclastic Rounder label, Plant made a statement: he’d rather make art than cash.

Then the rumors became more insistent. Two weeks ago, NME reported on plans for four Zeppelin shows this August at the Toronto Skydome.

Say it ain’t so, Bob.

One of rock’s two great moments of the last 20 years was Pink Floyd’s five-song set at Live 8 in 2005. The second was Zeppelin’s show at the O2 last November.

In both cases, the bands reunited for a specific reason – Pink Floyd to call attention to the G8 Summit, and Zeppelin to pay tribute to Ahmet Ertegun, the late president of Atlantic Records.

After each show, every prognosticator and Ticketmaster stockholder on the planet predicted a big cash-in that didn’t happen.

I saw Zeppelin in the Seventies. I saw the Stones, the Who, Clapton and three of the four Beatles. Maybe it’s unfair to deny that to someone who couldn’t experience it then.

But here’s the thing. No amount of money will recreate the alchemy of 35 years ago. You’d just be paying too much to make your friends jealous. There are better things to do with a camera phone.

Is it worth 500 bucks to see the Larry Bird of 2008 play basketball, or a crusty old Dennis Hopper reprise his role in “Easy Rider”?

Why is this any different? Instead of heading back to Jurassic Park, let’s create some new memories to share with our own children.

Perhaps there’s one or two in this list of upcoming shows:

Thursday: Lori McKenna/Mark Erelli, Bellows Falls Opera House – This is the kickoff concert for Roots on the River, a festival that attracts fans from all over the world. Four days of music for less than it costs to see Heart at the Verizon – need I say more? Highlights include the Bottle Rockets Friday, Eilen Jewell’s Depression-era music and the laconic Steve Forbert Saturday, and Mary Gauthier’s set with Roots ringmaster Fred Eaglesmith Sunday.

Friday: Natalie MacMaster, Lebanon Opera House – If you haven’t experienced the boundless energy of Cape Breton’s top musical export, then you have no excuse for not attending this performance. MacMaster exemplifies why Nova Scotia is North America’s Ireland. This time around, she’s performing with her husband, Donnell Leahy, who’s also an amazing fiddler, so the sparks should fly.

Saturday: Dr. Burma, Salt Hill Pub – With 20-plus years playing area clubs, it’s not too much to call this band a musical institution. Tonight, Dr. Burma plays a show to celebrate the release of “One Bite Won’t Kill You.” It’s only their second CD, but it was definitely worth the wait. This is a blues-rock powerhouse that always has the crowd up and dancing, and the new record is a gem.

Sunday: Pete Merrigan, Digby’s – Summer must be here, because Pete’s back in town, and his Sunday deck shows continue. Though Murphy’s has a new name, the vibe in Sunapee feels exactly the same, with plenty of cold beer and margaritas, plates piled high with nachos, and a sing-along every other tune. It’s still one of the best ways to spend a weekend afternoon.

Tuesday: Joshua Hall, Canoe Club – Hall is a middle school music teacher who duets with a lot of area guitarists, but tonight he flies solo. Canoe Club continues to be a great friend of music, with shows just about every night of the year. Recently, the club presented an R&B dance concert with the Willie Edwards Band, which will be reprised June 28.

Wednesday: Acoustic Coalition North, Inn At Idlewood (Sharon, VT) – The popular Quechee gathering now has an upcountry branch. The Inn has a fine fresh food menu, an enormous deck (5,000 square feet – that should fit a few guitars), and a great old barn for when it rains. The weekly jam session stills gathers Tuesdays at its summer home located in the Quechee Base Lodge.

8150 Lawsuit Foments Intense Copyright Discussion

copyright.gifMy recent Local Rhythms post on the legal action taken against Vail’s 8150 club has generated a surprising amount of feedback. Most responses side with the artists, and many of them are factually false. It’s a very interesting discussion, and after stripping the lies away (the bands aren’t getting sued, the club is; Zeppelin members are signed as plaintiffs, so their names aren’t being used by the Vail Daily simply to get attention for a sympathetic scofflaw), many good points are made.

I should point out some facts left out of my article. There are two types of cover bands. One inserts a favorite song into a set of originals, or more to the point, learns how to shape originals by playing a variety of music from artists they enjoy. Sometimes this is an icebreaker for groups who have their own material but are too self-conscious to play it for a strange audience.

Monetizing the music they play would, in my opinion, destroy a lot of bands who typically get paid little or nothing to perform in the first place. There’s a great discussion going on at coverville.com that addresses this situation quite cogently. I’ll repeat one of the better posts here:

I’m in a band. A cover band. And in my home town of Ottawa, Canada, 90% of bands are cover bands. I can only imagine what it’s like for the rest of the world.

If the nightclub recorded the bands and made money with the recordings, that’s a different story. It’s copyright infringement since it lessens the commercial value of the original songs — by stealing money away from the creator.

But if it’s not, this falls under “fair use” of the copyright law. And I would even add that, the money the club owner makes is not from covers being played (which probably is the argument, here), since they are providing services, atmosphere, location, etc.

They are paying the bands to perform. Bands should be the ones held liable, not the club owners. And even then, I believe they shouldn’t. Do bookstores pay licenses for people coming into their stores only to sit down at the coffee shop and read books for free? I mean, they provide the location, amenities, and even a good crowd. Or what about a book review in a magazine read in said bookstores? What about music playing over the sound system playing at the music while they’re reading?

I’m not a intellectual property lawyer by any stretch, but as a writer myself, I know enough of the law to know this to be true in most cases.

This is going to turn out like the whole Metallica/Napster fiasco. And as we know, this didn’t stop anything.

Admittedly, this situation is different. Or is it? Labels attempt to intimidate their fans. In this case, clubs, bars and restaurants who hire cover bands will suffer the brunt of a decline in clientele when they are forced to hire original acts — unknown, or expensive (if popular), original acts.

The nightclub owner is not the ones who suffers. Again, it’s the fans. And it’s a tragedy.

Nevertheless, this is setting a dangerous precedent and bands will be facing a monumental task if they were to clamp down on every club with cover bands. And it’s not great marketing, either. You hear a song from a cover band at a club, you’ll be tempted to buy the original — or the album where licenses ARE paid to the original creators/labels.

Again, an egg-and-chicken dilemma.

On the other hand, there are bands like Lez Zeppelin, Hell’s Belles and Rain that ape famous bands like Led Zep, AC/DC and the Beatles – and make a lot of money in the process. Those are the groups ASCAP should be going after.

Because I write about a local music scene with many aspiring bands who have day jobs, and club owners who are sympathetic to them, I tend to side with the underdog. ASCAP isn’t a saintly organization, fearlessly representing defenseless artists. How many performers even own the publishing rights to their songs? The stories of ASCAP’s predatory practices are legion on my beat.

Radio’s ability to break new music has faded; fewer stations even play music anymore. Those fields are fallow, so ASCAP has ramped up nightclub enforcement. When I worked in radio, we lived in dread of receiving the ASCAP diary. Station management went so far as to try and ban their songs whenever possible during the recording period. But they always got their money, because the law was on their side.

Now it’s bars and restaurants on the receiving end of this treatment. If it causes nascent musicians to put down their axes before they even begin, that’s a bad thing.

Local Rhythms – More Reasons to Hate the Music Biz

 

pageopensnyse.jpgVail, Colorado – I know, that’s a strange dateline for a local music column. However, recent news from the Rocky Mountain State is hitting close to home.

In yet another example of a music business utterly bereft of new ideas, the members of Led Zeppelin and Van Halen are suing the owner of Vail’s 8150 nightclub for hiring bands that play cover versions of their material. They’re looking for more than $30,000 per song in damages.

Publishing organizations like ASCAP and BMI earn their money enforcing copyrights. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but this is ridiculous. Worse than that, it’s counterproductive – at least where the musicians are concerned.

There’s a story of Paul McCartney seeing Jimi Hendrix play a teeth-rattling version of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in a London club, two days after that album was released.

I doubt Sir Paul was thinking about a performance fee that night.

Yet here are Jimmy Page and Robert Plant doing just that. These are the same guys who tried to rip off Howlin’ Wolf on their second album, by renaming his “Killing Floor” as “The Lemon Song” and trying to pass it off as an original. They were sued, and lost.

Van Halen is just a bad Xerox of Led Zeppelin, a band who spent the years before their big break playing – you guessed it – cover songs in L.A. nightclubs. I’m sure they were diligent about paying Roy Orbison every time they played “Oh Pretty Woman.”

Can’t they make nice long enough to complete a cash-grabbing tour like the Police? It makes absolutely no sense to risk losing their biggest fans (you know, the ones so dedicated they learn all of your songs, note for note).

But the reasons for this are sadly obvious. Neither band has made an even semi-interesting piece of new music in over 25 years. Like everyone else in the industry, they’re reduced to repackaging old work to milk past glory. It’s no longer music; it’s an annuity plan.

They should follow Eric Clapton’s cue; grateful for the success that “Cocaine” and “After Midnight” brought him, he made a record with J.J. Cale last year – a class act.

[A follow-up AlgoRhythms post to the 8150 lawsuit]

Who’s making music this weekend?

Thursday: The Wailin’ Jennys, St. Anselm College – A more rustic Dixie Chicks, this band has won several awards in their native Canada. Sweet three-part harmonies lift their bright, natural sound, which begs a question. Why does so much great Americana music come from north of the border? The Lovell Sisters, winners of a recent “Prairie Home Companion” talent search, open the show.

Friday: Have Blues Will Travel, Salt Hill 2 – Last week I talked about plans for Irish music on St. Patrick’s Day eve. Now comes word of music every Friday and Saturday in Newport’s newest restaurant. Tonight, it’s a well-regarded duo playing traditional, harp-sweetened blues. Tomorrow brings R&B, with Mike Benoit and Jimmy Ruffing. In the coming weeks the Eagle Block eatery welcomes stripped down pop (Rich Thomas & Wally Wysk 3/10) , bluegrass (Spare Change 3/24) and, obviously, Irish sounds. Great news!

Saturday: Chris Whitley Memorial Celebration, Boccelli’s – The hard-living Whitley left us in 2005, but his music continues to inspire. Jeff Lang, who recorded with Chris on “Dislocation Blues,” due for release this month on Rounder, headlines the show. Dan Whitley played an incendiary set at last year’s Roots on the River festival; once again he’s back for this, the second annual tribute to his late brother. Josh Maiocco hosts, Melissa Sheehan also performs.

Sunday: Fogey Mountain Boys, Canoe Club – Authentic bluegrass from a group of locals who love to play it. Since we’re on the subject of royalty fees, I wonder if Woody Guthrie lurked around campfires waiting for someone to play “This Land Is Your Land”? It’s doubtful, and these days all his stuff’s in the public domain. Since it’s Sunday, the Boys play for 3 hours. Sit close if you want to really enjoy the music.

Monday: Gaelic Storm, Iron Horse – This wonderful Irish quintet starts March in style with a long run through the region. They were in New London Tuesday, and play the Capitol in Concord tonight and Randolph’s Chandler Music Hall tomorrow. They have a neo-traditional sound that fits everywhere from the Dublin (Ohio) Irish Festival to the House of Blues (where they recorded a recent live DVD).

Tuesday: Open Mike with Josh Maiocco, PK’s Public House – Josh took the reins from Ezra Veitch last year for this Bellows Falls tradition, and he’s holding things down nicely. Anyone who wants to play can step up to the microphone and join in, but you should be aware that your friends and neighbors may be listening at home on WOOL-FM, which broadcasts everything live.