By Sarah Bennett
By Adam Lovinus
By Jena Ardell
By Nate Jackson
By Gustavo Arellano
By Nick Keppler
By Nate Jackson
By Alex Distefano
Seventeen years is a long lifespan for any band. It is an especially long existence for a band dependent on the songs of another band for its livelihood. Dread Zeppelin, the Pasadena-based novelty act that reworks classic Led Zeppelin hits into reggae- and Elvis-styled hilarity, has now lasted five years longer than the band that inspired it.
In that time, DZ has attained a surprising level of commercial success for a cover band, escaping the realms of Dr. Demento novelty platters to release albums on Imago and Capitol. Many people seem to find the band funny in much the same way that the antics of Carrot Top and Benny Hill still delight millions. Robert Plant even recently named Dread Zep as his favorite Led Zeppelin tribute band, which is a great honor—although not quite as great an honor as having served in Led Zeppelin itself.
Another school of thought holds that Dread Zeppelin isn't terribly hilarious after all. Elvis impersonation, this reasoning goes, hasn't really ever been funny. Reggae impersonation is a poor source of yuks. That one band member is named "Butt Boy" should be a cause for deep shame. Like a weak Saturday Night Live sketch that somehow gets optioned into a motion picture, the sticky odor of boredom clings to all that this band touches. It can be argued that anyone willing to invest the better part of two decades in this outfit may have some sort of emotional problem.
Then there is yet another school of thought: Western civilization is quickly running out of ideas. Humanity must recycle its best material. The Earth's population has almost doubled since Page met Plant in 1968, but there are far more parody Zeppelins afoot than potential Zeppelins (Led Zepagain will also be taking the stage on Friday night on the other side of Orange County at the Anaheim House of Blues). Fifteen years ago, critics could still compare Jane's Addiction to Led Zeppelin with a straight face. (Please note that nobody is saying the same of the Killers, or Nickelback, or any of the nine-dozen interchangeable, mincing emo bands that make listening to the radio such an unpleasant chore in 2006.)
This line of thinking continues: 20th century popular culture has secretly devolved into a colossal pyramid scheme in which each subsequent generation gets a little more swindled than the last. The disappointment is there for all to see. It lingers in the hordes of electro-clash enthusiasts gamely ignoring the worship of bands one generation old. It lurks on the faces of teen punkers bumbling down the sidewalk covered in patches like unemployed NASCAR drivers, their tattered costumes advertising bands 20 years dead. Every year the disappointment spreads.
From this viewpoint, Dread Zeppelin is ahead of the curve. In a world without pop culture innovation, only the most innovative satires and tributes will rise to the top. The possibilities are endless. My money says we will be seeing the first of the anti-tribute bands (The Birthday Potty [sic]? The Dave Matthews Bland [sic]?) within five years. Rap-rock was only the start of the Hybrid Age. White power bubblegum (Prussian Blue) and Hasidic reggae freestyle (Matisyahu) already exist. Everything is on the table.
For a long-term forecast, we have the Middle Ages to guide us. Picture filthy, syphilis-encrusted peasants squatting in the ruins of Roman splendor. Dread Zeppelin is but one of many mile markers on this same road to societal collapse. Enjoy.