Music's everywhere now. Despite the best effort of the record companies and the RIAA to make it only available in formats people can't use at prices they can't afford, music escaped and is available to everyone, all the time. It's a law of unintended consequences, I guess, that something which is ubiquitous is hardly valued. Like writing, music is becoming something ordered up to fill containers provided by other people. Whether those containers are weddings, or DJs, or websites, or theme tunes for TV shows, or ads, music is so available it gets used by the bucket as filler. Music, even hard core, is just hard core to fill a void. "Content providers", they call writers. Musicians who can write content to order, like a Jamaican performer providing personalized music for a local sound system, will win out in this phase of the battle. That's a subject for a whole other post, I'm sure.
There remains one type of music that is rare, rationed, and normally very expensive. That is live music. It can't be copied; it has to be provided by other people. But folks like live music. Unlike music on an iPod, you experience it in extraordinary circumstances (you have to go to where it is being held), and the social interactions involved are very different and highly sought after.
I've mentioned before that music never dies – Within seconds, I can find and listen to The Hollies or Blind Boy Fuller or The La's. Live music is the exception. Most best selling bands are defunct as a live outfit and the few still touring play stadiums or arenas and charge a premium. And the void gets larger every year – the desire to see live music never seems to diminish, but the number of touring bands gets smaller every year. Enter the tribute band, which fills this void.
Last Friday I went to see a tribute band called Led Zepagain. As you might guess, they fill the Led Zeppelin live void. Led Zepagain work on the details of emulation very carefully, the idea being to recreate the original experience as closely as possible.
They were playing a local concert hall, the OC Tavern. I have no idea how the economics of live music in So Cal work. The OC Tavern can't hold more than 700 on the live music dancefloor. That night there were two bands on, and a DJ/Sound System on a smaller dancefloor which attracted exactly zero people. The bar/café must have held 200 maximum. I know that slightly larger places like the Coach House survive with major bands and big-name live acts playing there, and smaller places always seemed to do ok. Perhaps the bars have some kind of device that silently vacuums money out of your pockets. It's the only way I can imagine they make a profit. It can't be the beer – you don't drink that much more because you're watching a live band.
I've seen Led Zeppelin themselves twice. I've also seen the band in person from a short distance, at The Song Remains the Same premiere. I've watched The Song Remains the Same so much I know most of the shots by heart. I have DVD. I made a start on the extra songs in the re-released The Song Remains the Same. I have a collection of every scrap of video of Led Zeppelin that has ever made it out to general-level bootleggers. So I have a good grasp of what Led Zeppelin looked like and sounded like. And if I wanted, I could play Zeppelin music constantly. I could watch them on my TV, or on my computer, around the clock. But I could never again see them live. And that's where Led Zepagain come in.
Led Zepagain blow me away. The recreation is uncanny – the sound is almost perfect and the visuals close enough to cause flashbacks. The wildly distorted scale – 1/40th the audience size, 1/10th the stage size – is a little disconcerting at first, but you get used to it. And best of all, you get all the benefits of live music.
The place was packed. The people around me were there to rock and did so with evident gusto. Most of them seemed to be Led Zepagain virgins, but all were converted by the energy, showmanship and virtuosity of the band. We all ended up dancing and singing along with the exception of a girl in front of me who wanted to play out some major life drama with her boyfriend. I guess getting to watch a living soap opera is part of the social benefits of live music I was extolling up there in the second paragraph.
Next weekend, July 12th, Led Zepagain will be playing the Santa Fe Springs swapmeet. Ticket price is one buck. Can't beat that.