written by Chris Familton
Tribute and cover bands should always be approached with caution. Too often they fall into the trap of imitation and pastiche and attract an audience who are prepared to settle for the next best thing rather than seeking out great original music. Whole Lotta Love did a lot to dispel this preconception by presenting itself as a celebration of one of the most iconic rock bands of the last century with impressive results.
This was certainly no band of players knocking out covers, instead it was a fully fledged professional production that integrated video, lights and for the most part a well constructed setlist across nearly 3 hours of music. Over the years as the annual show has grown the main orchestrator and lead guitarist has been Joseph Calderazzo and he showed why he is so good at these types of events. His playing shadowed that of Jimmy Page with near perfect replication, whether it was soaring solos, effect-heavy textures or folk and pseudo-classical acoustic playing. He also clearly knows where to draw the line in terms of overkill and pomposity with even the epic Kashmir kept in check.
Guest vocalists were what kept the show interesting with The Tea Party’s Jeff Martin an absolute standout both in voice and on guitar. His voice is in many ways the opposite to Robert Plant’s, much more in the vein of Jim Morrison with his deep bellowing sound. Martin even made a cheeky reference to that comparison that has always followed him by throwing in a few lines from The Doors’ LA Woman. Other singers like Noiseworks’ Steve Balbi also showed some humour with a teasing snatch of their hit Touch. It was Balbi who also stepped the farthest from the rock god persona of Plant with his waistcoat and bowler hat more suited to a Tim Burton film. With eccentric stage moves and a devastatingly good voice he was another of the highlights. Of the two female vocalists it was Zkye who best captured the bluesy roots of everything Led Zeppelin created. She showed sass and a coy sensuality as she glided between sweet singing and thunderous soulful howls. A star in the making for sure if she can find her niche with her original music.
In terms of the songs it was pretty much as one would expect ranging from acoustic tracks through to the riff monsters like Moby Dick, The Ocean, Rock n Roll and Black Dog. If there was any weakness to the show it was the moments when energy levels waned in slower songs and longer solos crept in. That plus an audience who rose from their seats at Jeff Martin’s command and then promptly sat down at the end of the song meant that the atmosphere was excited but certainly not rapturous. Overall though, a whole lotta love was had by band and audience that was deservedly bordering on devotional.
this review was first published in The Drum Media.