Thursday, October 18, 2007

Why I don't like to play Led Zeppelin live

Led Zeppelin is my favorite band. I'm a musician. Why don't I really like to play their music live?

The answer relates to my theory about performing any cover song live. That theory stipulates that if you are going to play a song that has been done before, your performance had better really be something.

If it's a rockin' song, you had better plan on rockin' out at least as much as the original did, if not more.

If it's a subtle song, you had better plan on making a beautiful musical statement -- and keeping your audience enticed the whole way through.

Anything short of that, and there was no purpose in you attempting to do the song in the first place.

So, when it comes to playing Led Zeppelin's music, there's an awful lot to live up to. It is my favorite group, and it had four of the most amazing performers playing some of the greatest rock songs ever. How can you even touch that?

Luckily, I have been in a band for the last few years that has pulled off a rockin' version of "Kashmir." I was doubtful when the song was first suggested that we could pull it off anything like Led Zeppelin did. But it turns out that we rock it out as well as some live renditions. Good enough for me!

We've also played "Immigrant Song," but our renditions don't rock quite as hard as any by Led Zeppelin. That's one that I think ought to be dropped from the set list.

Our bass player felt the same way about the Rush song "Red Barchetta." He loves Rush, and that's one of his favorite songs of all time. But after we rehearsed it for about a year, he insisted that we were still to rough and the song needed to be dropped. Dude almost quit the band over it!

A few hours ago, I was at an open mic night in Alexandria, Va., for no other reason than to find out if this drummer who e-mailed me today is any good. The open mic night was run by a bandmate of his, this dude named Eric. I found out about the open mic night when I was researching the drummer, and I figured showing up and asking for a recommendation would just be, naturally, another part of my research on the drummer.

Well, turns out the drummer was there, and I didn't even know it at the time! That's what I found out when I asked the open mic night guy if he knew of any drummers who might be looking for a new band. He mentioned a friend of his, whose name matched up with that of the guy who had e-mailed me. I didn't let on that these guys were one and the same, so I could get an honest opinion about this guy. He raved about the drummer and said they had been playing together for a long time. My brain went ding-ding-ding!

I asked about the guy I had just seen leave a few minutes earlier, carrying a conga drum. Turns out that was this drummer, and I didn't get to speak with him! It's a shame, too, because I had almost chased him down outside to ask if that conga drum meant he was a drummer and happened to be looking for a band. Little did I know that this guy I almost tracked down outside was the guy I was researching all along.

So, anyway, I now have a good feeling about this guy -- and about his buddy who led the open mic night too. I had put my name in the ring to play some tunes on the 88-key Kurzweil keyboard that just happened to be three. When it was my turn to shine, I introduced my first number as one made famous by an Alexandria native; it was "Riders on the Storm" by the Doors. (A book was just published about the life and times of Jim Morrison in his D.C.-area hometown.) While I was playing this, the open mic guy started playing along on acoustic guitar. That was fun. I segued nicely from "Riders" into one I have never heard another keyboard player attempt, "Roundabout" by Yes. We played that full song together.

Next, I played an original that has a lot of weird chord changes. Although I wrote this song -- music and lyrics -- back in July 1994, I myself am not sure whether it is in the key of B or B minor! The guy on acoustic guitar followed along and played, though the song was unfamiliar to him. Kudos to him for keeping up with me!

After that, I looked at the time. I had been in a hurry to make a train into D.C. at 11:03 p.m., departing from a station that was a five-minute walk away. The time said 11:03 exactly, so since making that train was no longer a reality, I was no longer bound by the clock. Instead of leaving right there and then, I settled in for at least one more song.

To start, I played another one from my past, this one written about eight years ago by a friend of mine who was playing in a band with me in Pennsylvania. I led it straight into the closing portion of Pink Floyd's "Wish You Were Here," which I was sure the guitar player would pick up on right away -- and he did.

That's all I had planned on playing. Open mic guy kept me up there and asked if I could play "Breathe." Naturally! We played that one together. I sang both verses until the part when the album version would have transitioned into "On the Run." I was ready to start goofing around but heard the guitar player keep on going through the chord progression. So, I took a solo as we went through those chord changes a couple of times. After this, we skipped "Time" and completed it with me singing the "Breathe" reprise.

After this, the guy suggested some Steely Dan song I didn't know very well, so instead I played some bits from "Tarkus" by Emerson, Lake & Palmer. This alienated the guitarist, unfortunately, as pretentious ELP is wont to do, so he sat back as I played as much as I could of the song without making a fool of myself. Come to think of it, he started backing me during the keyboard solo in the "Stones of Years" section.

As soon as that was all over, so was open mic night, and the bar was pretty much ready to close. Before I left, the open mic night guy handed me his business card and said I should e-mail him to get the drummer's contact information (haha, little does he know I already have it!) and possibly to get together with him to jam sometime this weekend! It's cool how stuff works out.

Now, why did I pick the songs I did? Because I can play them well (and because I was confident enough in my pitiful singing that I could pull them off). Why didn't I go for anything by Led Zeppelin? Please. Do you really think a two-man bar atmosphere can do justice even to the simplest of Zeppelin songs?

Come to think of it, "Hats Off to (Roy) Harper" would have worked well. Dammit!

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