The Levee: A Led Zeppelin Tribute Band will make two Triangle appearances in the next three weeks. The group will perform its 180-proof imitation of the live music of the most successful rock-and-roll band of the 1970s for a $3 cover charge on June 21 at The Library in Chapel Hill, NC, and free of charge on Friday, July 4, at J.S. Dorton Arena at the N.C. State Fairgrounds in Raleigh, NC. (Note: During its heyday, the world-famous British super group played Dorton Arena on April 8, 1970.) A free world-class fireworks display will follow the latter performance, which will be produced in association with the City of Raleigh's Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources as part of the state's Fourth of July celebration.
Formed in 1968, Led Zeppelin consisted of vocalist Robert Plant, guitarist Jimmy Page, bassist John Paul Jones, and drummer John "Bonzo" Bonham. Its greatest hits include: "Dazed and Confused," "Immigrant Song," The Song Remains the Same," "Stairway to Heaven," and "Whole Lotta Love."
On Sept. 25, 1980, while rehearsing for the band's upcoming North American tour, the hard-drumming and hard-drinking Bonham died suddenly. The surviving trio officially disbanded on December 4, 1980. On May 15, 1988, Led Zeppelin reunited for an evening — with Jason Bonham on drums — to perform during Atlantic Records' 40th anniversary celebration at Madison Square Garden in New York City..
Formed in 1990 in Raleigh, NC, The Levee currently consists of vocalist Dan O'Connor, guitarist Al Cruz, bassist Dennis Collier, and drummer Brian Leden. O'Connor and Collier are founding members of the group which, unlike some other tribute bands, concentrates on imitating the sound and the spirit, not the look, of the original group's live performances.
Dan O'Connor says, "'The Levee' is a reference to the song 'When the Levee Breaks,' a track Led Zeppelin released on their famous 1971 fourth album, which was titled with four symbols representing each of the members of the band — that's the record that includes 'Stairway to Heaven.'
"'When the Levee Breaks' has always symbolized to us quite a bit of what Led Zeppelin was all about," O'Connor explains, "taking a blues standard and twisting it into something completely beyond what it was originally; power, power, and more power; a sinister undertone; a completely groundbreaking drum sound that has been endlessly imitated since then, symbolizing their pioneering nature; and a really fantastic performance. Not that we try to convey a sinister undertone ourselves or anything, but Zeppelin did it in a very subtle and mysterious way, and that's a part of what made them millions of fans worldwide."
O'Connor adds, "The Levee started in September of 1990.... There have been a couple of lengthy layoffs since that time: from 1993 to 1998 and from 1999 until March of this year. Our current drummer [Brian Leden] joined in 1998, and our current guitarist [Al Cruz] joined in March of this year. Three of us have full-time jobs, and one of us is in school...."
The Levee's June 21 and July 4 performance are a rare opportunity for Triangle Led Zeppelin fans to relive some of their favorite musical moments.
"We're really working on trying to play more locally — if only there were more hours in the day for us to pursue such things!" says Dan O'Connor. "We're fortunate in Raleigh, as there are a number of good clubs around, and a lot of locals who really enjoy live rock music. I believe that Led Zeppelin has sold more records than any other band but the Beatles, so we know that there are lots of fans out there who would really enjoy our show, given the opportunity to check it out."
O'Connor adds, "We reproduce just the sound of the band, and the emphasis is on the sound of the live concerts that [Led Zeppelin] performed in the 1970s. Reproducing the look would not only be hilariously campy and silly (have you seen the film The Song Remains The Same?), [but] it would also be somewhat futile, as we'll never actually BE the members of the band.
"I can understand why some people enjoy tribute bands that also try to present the look of the bands whose music they are performing," O'Connor admits, "but it just didn't seem necessary to us. We have replicated a lot of the musical equipment that Zeppelin used, however, including a set of amber-colored Ludwig Vistalite drums that are the same sizes as those used by John Bonham, the double-necked guitar that Jimmy Page uses, and some additional vintage equipment that has been both fun and difficult to track down. Thank goodness for eBay!"
To peruse a set list and sound clips for The Levee, see the group's web site: http://www.thelevee.com/.
"We typically play three sets of music," notes Dan O'Connor, "each of them roughly an hour in length. We try to present a fairly wide spectrum of Led Zeppelin's music, including music from all the Zeppelin records, except for 1979's 'In Through the Out Door.' We play both the songs that are familiar to anyone who's heard a rock radio station in the last 30+ years, as well as the more obscure songs that appeal to the more ardent fans out there.
"We try to arrange our performances based on how the songs were originally performed by Led Zeppelin live in concert," O'Connor says. "We have one of the larger collections of live Led Zeppelin concert recordings in the world to help us do that. The concerts were often so thrilling, it's irresistible not to want to emulate them. After all, everyone's heard the studio-recorded tracks for years, and we don't believe there would be a point in simply replicating those brilliantly produced studio creations on a stage — even if we could magically do that, audiences could simply stay home and listen to the originals!"
He adds, "By basing our arrangements on live recordings of the real Led Zeppelin, we try to bring something new and exciting to the vast majority of fans who have never heard those great concerts. It's a lot of fun to watch the reactions of fans to the unpredictable twists and turns in the songs we play, and the level of improvisation inherent in performing them as we do.
"The new Led Zeppelin DVD and their 3CD live release 'How the West Was Won' have finally come out to give less obsessively collecting fans a clue as to why we're doing what we're doing," O'Connor explains. "Both releases debuted at #1 on their respective charts, which was very gratifying for us. Knowing that legions of huge Led Zep fans are finally getting a chance to experience a bit of what made such an impression on us so many years ago is really fantastic."
Audience response to The Levee's performances has been gratifying, O'Connor says. "The music is always well-received," he says, "as it's quite competently played, and high-energy, well-known material. However, there have been some shows where some huge Zeppelin fans have had the happy surprise of showing up at a club we were playing, having no idea what we were doing, and then becoming downright rapturous by the end of the evening. That's always a real treat."
O'Connor adds, "We've also had the experience of playing a gigantic outdoor benefit concert in Chatham County in front of a couple of thousand people back in the early 1990s, and being in the middle of the violin bow section of 'Dazed and Confused,' when a huge fight broke out way back in the crowd, causing the large field we were playing in to clear out rather quickly. That was a fairly interesting experience. To be honest, because our gigs have been rather scarce, we haven't had a lot of critical attention, other than from the many visitors to our web site, http://www.thelevee.com/. The comments we've received from site visitors have been quite complimentary, and we feel fortunate for that....
"We're making an effort now to play much more frequently," O'Connor says, "and are seeking some good management to help us reach that goal. We rehearse on a weekly basis, which is cool and everything, but smiling faces are much more fun to look at than four walls. We have played outside the Triangle a number of times — in fact, I just set up a show last night in Wrightsville Beach for the end of August that we're really excited about. I've had inquiries by e-mail from our web site asking us to come and play some interesting places, such as Japan, Ireland, and Brazil. It just goes to show that music, I suppose particularly Led Zeppelin music, is truly a worldwide language. We've also been asked to come to most of the major metropolitan areas in the U.S., which would be a lot of fun if we could pull it off. We're mulling heading up to Niagara Falls for a Zeppelin fan convention here in a few months, which would be a murderously demanding audience, but also very rewarding. We'll see!"
Dan O'Connor warns fans to come prepared — perhaps, with earplugs in their pockets — "because we'll give them way more than their money's worth," he says. "Three hours is a lengthy show for anyone, especially playing music this complex and strenuous. We give it our all, and audiences tend to really appreciate that.
"Audiences shouldn't come to our show expecting costumes and rote recitations of the same songs they've heard for years," O'Connor cautions. "They'll find lots of improvisation, high energy, exciting arrangements, and enthusiasm. I suppose the most important thing for audiences to know is that we're going to come expecting to have a good time, and we'll have the same expectation of them!"
The Levee: A Led Zeppelin Tribute Band will play Saturday, June 21, at 10:30 p.m. at The Library, 120 East Franklin St., Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Friday, July 4, at 5:30 p.m. in J.S. Dorton Arena at the N.C. State Fairgrounds, intersection of Hillsborough St. and Blue Ridge Rd., Raleigh, North Carolina. $3 cover charge at The Library and free of charge at Dorton Arena. 919/968-6004 (The Library). http://www.thelevee.com/, http://libraryrocks.com/index.php [inactive 3/04], http://www.ncstatefair.org/dorton.htm [inactive 10/04], and http://www.ledzeppelin.com/site_flash/fs_home.html [inactive 4/04].