Lez Zeppelin, the all-female band renowned worldwide for their energetic concerts covering the music of classic rock legends Led Zeppelin, return to Riverhead’s Suffolk Theater Friday.
Manhattan guitarist Steph Paynes formed the band in 2004 on a whim—she thought it would be fun. Paynes admits that had she fully understood then how difficult it would be, she might have been intimidated. But she just dove in and did it. The band soon found success, and has carried on through three lineups.
In just over a decade, Lez Zeppelin has played in all 50 U.S. states, plus India and Singapore, and toured Europe more than 10 times. In 2008, the band was the opening act at Bonnaroo in Tennessee, playing on the main stage to a crowd of 20,000.
The current lineup, which has been together for almost seven years now, features Leesa Harrington-Squyres on drums, Megan Thomas on bass and keyboards, and voice actress and Hedwig and the Angry Inch Broadway understudy Shannon Conley on vocals. It was this lineup that received the blessing of Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page, who came to see Lez Zeppelin in London in 2013. He told Paynes that the four women “got the essence” of what Led Zeppelin was trying to do.
The idea for an “All Girls, All Zeppelin” band came to Paynes after she got her hands on remastered Led Zeppelin recordings that were released around the turn of the millennium. She fell in love with the music all over again, but even more so than before, she says.
“All of us, in some way, are fans because we’ve heard this music all our lives. It’s such a fabric of our being. But for me, I kind of rediscovered it in a sort of serious, musician-y way,” Paynes says. “I was so struck by how unbelievably brilliant it was,” she recalls. “It stood the test of time and sounded so rich and vibrant and powerful—even 40 years after the fact.”
Paynes doesn’t consider Lez Zeppelin to be a tribute band. That conjures thoughts of impersonators, in costumes. But Lez Zeppelin members don’t dress up like Page—in his famous dragon pants—and Robert Plant, she says. “Of course, the fact that we’re all girls adds another twist to it.”
“It’s a reinterpretation of the music,” Paynes explains. “I like to say, ‘It is a she-incarnation of the music.’”
Plant has a high voice, but that doesn’t mean it is easy for a woman to sing like he did, according to Paynes. “Led Zeppelin is very sophisticated music, and it’s hard for anybody to play, whether they’re male or female.”
Lez Zeppelin has two records, and both stand apart from typical cover albums. The first was produced by Eddie Kramer, the engineer for five Led Zeppelin albums. It features a favorite song from each of Led Zeppelin’s first six records, plus two original instrumentals. The second, Lez Zeppelin I, is a track-for-track remake of Led Zeppelin’s debut album. Rather than giving the music an update with the newest recording technology, the band set out to be as authentic and true to the original as possible. That included using vintage instruments—everything from the guitars to the drumheads—and ’60s era compressors and other equipment. They recorded several tracks live, Paynes notes. “You have to do it live to get that energy and that feel.” She says it was an incredible experiment and exercise to step into that era.
The biggest mistake people make when they go to a Lez Zeppelin concert for the first time, Paynes says, is they don’t expect the power and intensity. “We promise that they will experience something they are not expecting. Whatever that may be, we promise they will get something other than, or in addition to, what they think they’re in for—and that they will enjoy it,” she says, adding, “It might even blow your mind.”
Lez Zeppelin performs Friday, February 5, at 8 p.m. at Suffolk Theater, 118 E Main Street, Riverhead. Tickets are $35. Visit suffolktheater.com or call 631-727-4343.