Friday, April 4, 2008 | 2 a.m.
If you go
What: Lez Zeppelin
Tonight: 8 p.m.; Chrome, Santa Fe Station; $12; www.santafestationlasvegas.com/entertainment, 547-5300
Saturday: 7:30 p.m.; The Railhead, Boulder Station; $12; www.boulderstation.com/entertainment, 547-5300
One of the foundations of entertainment in Las Vegas is people pretending to be someone else. But the subgenre known as the tribute band is something else. Operating somewhat under the mainstream media radar, tribute bands are a steady draw at clubs, and the best of them can fill a house more reliably than a band that plays original songs. Almost every successful band that has any vestige of a hit or a stage personality has a tribute doppelganger out there somewhere.
Van Halen, for instance, has spawned upward of 25 tribute bands, including Hot for Teacher and Van Heineken; and KISS has not one but two tribute bands — Mini Kiss and Tiny Kiss — peopled by little people. (Some still-touring bands — the Rolling Stones and Chicago, let’s say — have arguably become their own tribute bands.)
An international phenomenon, the genus “tribute band” divides into two main species. There’s the simulacrum/substitute that tries to faithfully reproduce every nuance of the artist (Elvis impersonators are legion). And then there are the tongue-in-cheek twisters, who reinterpret a band’s original works in an incongruous genre for comic effect. Some amusing examples: Hayseed Dixie, which performs hillbilly versions of AC/DC’s hard rock hits; Gabba, attacking ABBA tunes in the style of the Ramones; and the Dead Hensons, an eight-piece rock band covering songs from early Jim Henson projects, including “Sesame Street” and “The Muppet Show.”
One of the most recent successful twists in the tribute game is crossing gender lines. AC/DShe and Hell’s Belles are all-women AC/DC homages. Similarly, the Iron Maidens imitate, well, Iron Maiden. And many still mourn the disbanding of Mandonna, an eight-man Madonna tribute band. The stars of the gender-crossing tribute scene are Lez Zeppelin, who play tonight at Santa Fe Station and Saturday at Boulder Station. And hearing these Hammers of the Goddesses might just take the edge off while we’re all waiting to hear whether the reconstituted Led Zeppelin will tour the States. Featuring Steph Paynes (guitar), Helen Destroy (drums), Lisa Brigantino (bass guitar, mandolin and keyboards), and Sarah McLellan (Robert Plant), the band released a self-titled debut album last year, recorded with producer/engineer Eddie Kramer — known for his work with Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix and KISS — and mastered by George Marino, who, with Jimmy Page, digitally remastered the original Led Zeppelin recordings. MTV completed filming on a documentary about Lez Zeppelin this week; the band has recorded a live re-creation of the first Led Zeppelin album in its entirety, for release this year.
Missing Celine now that she’s left Las Vegas and hit the road? Too strapped to buy Cher tickets? Check out Canadian comic/singer Laura Landauer, who flawlessly mimics and mocks both divas. Landauer recently made a splash on YouTube with her “Celine Dion Workout Video,” which you can check out at ca.youtube.com/watch?v=3FdOW4iAfBw.
Another Vegas headliner getting the tribute treatment is Elton John, whose countless hits are favorites among the repertoire of the Yellow Brick Road classic rock tribute show. It also replicates Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Queen, the Who and more every Friday and Saturday, 11 p.m. to 2 a.m., at the Railhead at Boulder Station. On May 2, YBR will stage a special Pink Floyd tribute at the venue, with a performance of the complete “Dark Side of the Moon” and other Floyd faves.
Finland’s Apocalyptica has a special place in the firmament of tribute stars — the three classically trained cellists and a drummer specialize in the music of Metallica, and on April 11 they will headline House of Blues at Mandalay Bay. (House of Blues hosts a weekly Tribute Fridays night; upcoming acts include Mojo Risin’: A Tribute to the Doors (tonight) and the Dave Matthews Tribute Band, May 14.
English comedian/musician Bill Bailey recently did a funny multipart documentary on tribute bands called “Earth, Wind, for Hire,” and you can stream it at www.bbc.co.uk/radio2/musicclub/doc_earthwindehire.shtml. And the British best-seller “Like a Rolling Stone: The Strange Life of a Tribute Band,” published in the United States this month, chronicles one of the oldest copycat acts, Sticky Fingers, which bills itself as “the leading international Rolling Stones tribute show.” Author Steven Kurutz follows Sticky Fingers as it shadows the real Rolling Stones 2005–06 tour “like a remora trailing a shark.” You can keep up with the ever-expanding universe of copycat bands at www.tribute-band.com, which strives to present a comprehensive catalog of tributes to bands from A-ha to ZZ Top, searchable by genre, band or artist and region.