‘The Song Remains the Same’ for tribute band

Joel StoningtonAspen, CO Colorado
All-girl tribute band Lez Zeppelin performs Thursday at Belly Up Aspen. (Contributed photo)

ASPEN – There are plenty of tribute bands. And many of them suck. Few tribute bands, however, get a review in SPIN saying they might be “the most powerful all-female band in rock history.” That was when everything changed, said Steph Paynes, the alter ego of Jimmy Page in the all-girl tribute band Lez Zeppelin – set to play the Belly Up Aspen on Thursday. Of course, she knew they were onto something special from the first day the band got onstage. “Really, this was a labor of pure love,” Paynes said. “I thought we’d do all right, but I really had no idea that it could become what it has become. We don’t really consider it a tribute band and our fans walk away feeling it was one of the best concerts they’ve ever seen. It’s like a she-incarnation. It’s a rebirth rather than a clone. We’re bringing ourselves to it so it’s a different thing. And we are women, of course, so no one will mistake us for Plant or Page.”

The idea for the band came to Paynes back when she was gigging with Ronnie Spector, “the original bad girl of rock ‘n’ roll.” Paynes was sitting backstage fantasizing about a gig with Led Zeppelin. From there, it was just realizing the fantasy gig wasn’t actually that far away. “I knew quite a few musicians in New York, but I didn’t know any women I thought could fit the bill,” Paynes said. “So it was all word of mouth. I just started telling everyone and they all thought it was the greatest idea they’d ever heard. That’s how I found people, through friends of friends. It came together quite quickly.”Sarah McLellan rocks out the vocals à la Plant; Paynes plays electric, acoustic and theremin; Lisa Brigantino is the John Paul Jones of the band, and Helen Destroy attempts to fill John Bonham’s shoes.

“The thing about Led Zeppelin that was so unique, that made them so good was the way they played together as a band,” Paynes said. “All of that goes into what we have to do in trying to capture that live. We needed to play together a lot and dig deeply into the songs. Playing the notes to a song like ‘Black Dog’ is fine. Any musician of a certain level can play the notes, but it’s so much more than that. It’s about attitude, the dynamics of the group, the excitement, the edge of it. It took us a while to become comfortable. Because when you’re up there you don’t want to think about anything, you just want it to flow through you.”They play a solid set of Zeppelin favorites, from “Dazed and Confused,” to “Kashmir.” Paynes said they keep the songs lively and interesting by improvising a good deal and working to bring the music alive. “It’s never boring,” she said. “The songs are built around the idea of expressionism. As musicians we’re very satisfied.”

All the reviews and all the good shows doesn’t seem to change how the crowds arrive. Paynes says few people think the band could really bring the music of Led Zeppelin alive. “The basic premise of the band rides on skepticism and sexism,” Paynes said. “You have an entire audience arriving saying, ‘Yeah, let’s see.'”Joel Stonington’s e-mail address is