The novelist Nick Hornby has an anecdote in 31 Songs about going to see Led Zeppelin in their mid-70s pomp at Earls Court. The band started soloing through ‘The Song Remains The Same’, at which point Hornby left the arena, walked down the road to a nearby boozer, had a pint and a game of pool and strolled back to find Jimmy Page still noodling away.
Many would say Hornby dodged a bullet in not having to watch Zeppelin’s self-indulgent tendencies wrought large on an adoring crowd of worshippers. Logic suggests the same people would love Dublin act Whole Lotta Zepp for the very same reason. Led by hard-hitting drum maestro Simon Freedman, the ensemble made up of some of Dublin’s finest rock musicians have for five years now traded in reproducing Zeppelin’s classic albums one at a time on feverishly awaited annual nights in the Sugar Club. That the queue for tonight snakes its way down Leeson St gives some indicator of their place in Dublin live-music lore.
This year, it’s the turn of Led Zeppelin III to get brought back to life at the hands of fast limbs and minds but there is a bit more going on, however. Freedman, Dan O’Connor (one of three ex-Boss Volenti alumni involved and arguably Ireland’s finest rock guitarist) and bassist Darren Isaacson (the unsung hero of the outfit) warm up a sardine-packed Sugar Club. They do this through a medley of Zepp standards fiddled into a tight and jaw-dropping ten minutes that defies belief. A bar of ‘Achilles Last Stand’ here, a verse of ‘Black Dog’ there, like some rock ‘n’ roll money-shot compilation. Outrageous carry on.
To the stage come more musicians to orbit this core trio. Fronting is vocalist Jim Chandler, who perhaps has the least enviable role tonight. Multi-instrumentalist Rob Daly and guitarist Laura Mackey add the embellishment. I spy Cormac Curran from Villagers sitting down to play keys at one stage. And, what the hell, let’s have two more drummers to share the Olympian task of matching Bonzo smash-for-smash. Session supremos Jay Oglesby and Johnny Boyle will do just fine.
From the pummelling gallop of ‘Immigrant Song’ to the hoe-down of ‘Bron-Y-Aur Stomp’, III is delivered in stunningly faithful fashion. You notice that you can relax certain parts of your brain. With the material beyond doubt, you can sit back, swig a beer and just savour the playing. Bliss. And seeing actual flesh and bone making this racket doesn’t demystify or cheapen what Led Zeppelin did all those years ago. It actually makes it more incredible to comprehend, if anything.
And as Freedman, Boyle and Oglesby unite for some synchronised slamming behind their kits to an astounding encore of ‘Kashmir’, Whole Lotta Zepp drifts beyond mere virtuosity and homage. Smiles are exchanged around the stage. No one has been concerned about winning over a new crowd or road-testing material. Fuck dressing up like a Butlins act. What is quenching every thirsty ear in the auditorium is the sight and sound of friendship, harmony and rock‘n’roll congealing with scant regard for tomorrow. Now that’s entertainment.