ZOSO (Zeppelin tribute band) @ The Newport on Friday night

For the briefest of brief moments back in 2007, I held out hope that Led Zeppelin’s one-off reunion show in London may be the spark to ignite a full-scale reunion tour. But Robert Plant’s surprisingly successful partnership with Alison Krauss has most likely killed any chance of a Zeppelin reunion.

With that in mind, the next best thing out there is ZOSO, the premiere Led Zeppelin tribute band that has been honoring the godfathers of heavy metal since 1995.

Seeing a band that looks like the original in it’s prime for $12 in a smaller venue is probably a better experience than seeing the real band in 2010 and paying $100 for a seat in the upper deck at the back of a stadium.

I talked to Matt Jernigan, who plays the role of Robert Plant, earlier this week. If there’s one quote to take away from the whole interview, it’s this one: “You know what the beauty of this gig is? We don’t ever do a bad song.”

Interview after the jump.

Is there a difference between a tribute band and a cover band?

Absolutely! A tribute band puts a lot more into it. A cover band will just go up there and be like a jukebox. I think anybody can do it, but try to recreate it. It’s like, “yeah, you’re playing the right chords but you’re not having the right feel” as a cover band. Tribute bands execute it exactly like it was.

Getting the sound right is crucial but you also have to really get the look right too, don’t you?

The sound was always the most important thing. The look – we just kind of naturally looked the part.

How did you decide to become a Zeppelin tribute band?

Me and bass player and drummer were in an original band. We had a management company and were trying to get a deal. At that time the music scene was changing and they weren’t signing bands like us and they never have signed bands like us since. We were a throwdown, heavy blues-based rock band and at that time they were signing bands like Limp Bizkit, Korn and The Offspring.

It was actually a suggestion by the management company to do this. It’s kind of strange in life that that happens but that’s how the band came together. We pondered it for about 3 months before we decided to do it. We realized that we had something to work with and here we are.

Looking at your tour schedule, you’re mainly a weekend warrior band – doing shows Thursday night through Sunday night. Was there a point in time when you were touring in a van just like an original band doing 5 or 6 shows a week?

When we first started – the first 3 years – we were constantly living on the road. We did that until we became established. We used to hit a lot of smaller rooms that we won’t do now. We’re in a transition period now where we’re moving up another 2 or 3 notches. The past 5 or 6 years we’ve been playing more and more theaters, and performance arts centers, and even bigger festivals.

You’ve been doing it so long, it must be nice to have a built in crowd of people who love every song.

It’s a tough gig. There have been people who stand there with their arms crossed, but 95% of the people who have come to see us take their hats off to us which is overwhelming. We’ve worked really hard for it. We know we can play but it’s something we have to stay on top of every day. You’ve really got to stay sharp with it to give it the justice it deserves and not to let the fans down.

Do you change the setlist or it is pretty set in stone now?

We change the setlist constantly. Two of our old members were reluctant to play certain material. Why? It’s like, you get a job and you tell your boss “This is what I’m not going to do.” We had to tolerate things to keep things going. We had 50 songs on our list and we were only doing 38 because that’s all those guys wanted to learn. Up until this year [when the original band all got back together], we hadn’t done “Dazed and Confused” in 5 years because we took it from The Song Remains the Same so it’s 27 minutes but we cut it down to 18. It’s a lot of work and the old guys didn’t want to do the work.

Have you ever met any of the Zeppelin guys? Do they know ZOSO exists?

We’ve never met them, wish we do before they die. We know that Jimmy knows about us and Robert knows about us. Have they ever come to see us? If they have, they slipped in the back door and slipped back out.

ZOSO performs Friday night at the Newport. Tickets are $12 at the door. There is no opening act so expect ZOSO to play at least a two-hour set.

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