We are in a curious place in rock-and-roll history when "tribute" bands -- groups that perform the music of a particular classic-rock outfit, and may dress like and even mimic their individual members' personas -- are a bigger draw than those playing original music.
But while it is of course subjective, artists like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and Led Zeppelin will likely forever sit atop the rock-and-roll pantheon, and as the form has splintered into subgenres and sub-subgenres, fading as a cultural force and symbol of youthful rebellion (albeit with the occasional renaissance), we are unlikely to see as glorious a time for popular music as the 1960s and 1970s.
Exhibit A: Lez Zeppelin, a novel twist on an homage to the English hard-rock quartet that created some of the most intense and exhilarating, complex, and even subtle music, has been active nearly twice as long as Led Zeppelin was. Over 19 years, the all-female group has played hundreds of gigs from Amagansett to Australia, Japan, Singapore, Poland, Germany, France, Belgium, Holland, even India.
In 2013, Led Zeppelin's founder, the guitarist Jimmy Page, caught a show in London. "They played the Led Zeppelin music with an extraordinary sensuality and an energy and passion that highlighted their superb musicianship," he said.
Lez Zeppelin will return to the intimate stage at the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Saturday at 8 p.m.
Steph Paynes, the group's guitarist, said last week that the band's founding was "a whimsical idea I had, just to play this amazing music for fun, without realizing what needed to go into it -- which was probably good. At that point, I'd never done a 'tribute' thing, doing someone else's music. I hadn't even been in cover bands at all, so I didn't know this was a sort of thing people did. I just said, 'This is the best music, let's get some girls together and play it.' Once I put that into the universe, the universe rewarded me immediately with everyone just freaking out over the idea: 'I want to see it!' 'Wow, what a great concert!' Then I was stuck doing it."
The band's name was her mother's idea. "It was brilliant," the guitarist said. "I recognized it as such. There was no turning back."
The timing was auspicious to form such a band, she said. "There were not a lot of women, if any, playing this kind of revered catalog of music. There were women playing metal, but I don't consider this that. Without wanting to offend, I feel Led Zeppelin's canon of music is a lot more sophisticated" than heavy metal, "and very challenging, and frankly requires a kind of musicianship that you can't just practice for. As someone from The Boston Globe once put it, it's beyond practice. At the end of the day, it is. That's the mysterious element, the untouchable element that everyone wonders, what is that? How do I get that?"
"It was quite an undertaking," she said. "When people came to see us play, pretty much from the beginning -- when we weren't really that good -- they flipped out. It was a combination of the music being timely again and these four women getting up there and throwing themselves into it. It was very intense, passionate, sexy, and there was the whole gender reversal thing -- now it's a much different environment."
The power and mystery of Led Zeppelin's music is matched by its players' virtuosity, no small feat for any musician to emulate, but Lez Zeppelin, through personnel changes and a long layoff because of the Covid-19 pandemic, consistently meets that challenge.
"When I get to the stage, I just leave, I go to that place," Ms. Paynes said. "Thankfully, the music is so rich that it's not really the same, it changes. It's like different colors all the time. You get to different depths of it, or understand something else, or bring something of yourself to it. It's like a vehicle. They're wonderful compositions, so it's not this thing that is stagnant. There's always room in this music to bring yourself to it, to improvise, to reach further."
Some nights, the band plays an entire Led Zeppelin album, like 1975's two-disc set, "Physical Graffiti," or even a particular concert, like a celebrated, three-hour-plus show at London's Earls Court arena, also in 1975.
Saturday's performance will not be one of those. "Talkhouse is a high-energy show," said Ms. Paynes, who has performed there many times. "It will be rip-romping, foot-stomping, crazy hysteria. It'll probably be a hit-you-in-the-face, electric kind of experience."
The Talkhouse "is truly one of my favorite gigs after all this time," she said. "I've met more amazing people there, I love the guys who run it, it's like family. It's a fantastic place." The band recently booked a second summer performance there, on Aug. 25.
Tickets for Saturday's show are $70.