When Led Zeppelin debuted in 1969 with their venerable Led Zeppelin I, they were accused of unabashedly stealing music from the likes of Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf. Essentially, they were a British rock band plagiarizing the music of poor American blues musicians and in doing so became international superstars.
So when Wolfmother released its eponymous debut in 2006 to pandemic approbation, the remaining members Led Zeppelin must have chortled silently to themselves in self-deprecating nostalgia. Could there be a more bald-faced rip-off of Led Zeppelin? (If you need convincing of this, listen to “Dazed and Confused” and then virtually any Wolfmother song). Not only were these three Australian rockers following their favorite band’s footsteps musically; they likewise pillaged and plundered and then simply played it louder than their predecessors.
Led Zeppelin eventually abandoned the straight-up American blues in favor of sonic experimentation and a variety of world-music influences. Wolfmother, on the other hand, has remained true to 1970s hard-rock pigeonhole. Granted, the band only released its second album, Cosmic Egg, a few weeks ago. So don’t call it a one trick pony just yet: The way things are going right now, it appears that the band’s influence pool is growing to include other ‘70s hard-rock bands, like maybe a little Black Sabbath here and there and possibly some later Zeppelin.
So Wolfmother isn’t that original. Does this mean it don’t know how to righteously rock the State Theater packed with rabid fans pawing the stage and front-man Andrew Stockdale’s curly mane? Did drunken metal-heads and 14-year-old boys alike tell Wolfmother to try something new for a change? Nay! The power of their derivative rock was just simply too colossal to allow anyone to remain in its seats, let alone to question the authenticity of the epic foursome that ripped Hennepin Avenue a new one on Saturday night.
Since its debut album, Wolfmother’s only remaining original member is Stockdale. The original bass player and drummer apparently had “irreconcilable differences” with Stockdale, and after watching Saturday’s performance, this isn’t inconceivable. The moment Wolfmother stepped on stage, Stockdale’s flamboyant theatrics completely stole the show from the rest of his newly formed foursome.
While Ian Peres, Aidan Nemeth and Dave Atkins did a phenomenal job behind bass/keyboards, rhythm guitar and drums, respectively, they were simply dwarfed by Stockdale’s ego and crowd-pleasing abilities. The man spent a good fourth of the concert either phallically grappling his guitar at the edge of the stage, off the stage entirely or being worshiped by the most enthralled groupies since Led Zeppelin.
In the interest of beating the Led Zeppelin comparisons to death, I must mention that Wolfmother lacks the virtuosity of the aforementioned band. The members of Zeppelin were four of the most talented and influential performers ever to make music. Wolfmother’s Stockdale, on the other hand, is a smidgen more technically talented than your average bedroom guitar-devotee. But what he lacks in aptitude, he makes up in backbone. He writes potent rock music that cannot be listened to while standing still. His guitar-tone, the most forward-thinking aspect of the band, rivals Jack White. And his stage presence, decadent and imitative as it is, channels Robert Plant and Jimmy Page simultaneously in a way his musicianship cannot.
When Stockdale wasn’t debauching young female audience-members, he was stealing the stage moves of everyone from Jimmy Page to Angus Young to Kurt Cobain, et al. At one point he threw his guitar on the stage and literally began humping it. As far as I know, this one was original. Such histrionics mostly happened during extended breakdowns in the middle of songs while the rest of the band waited steadfast at their posts for the obligatory climax when all those pent-up hormones broke the floodgates and drenched the audience in Stockdale’s monumental vision: a world where busty, topless women ride white unicorns from Mordor to Rohan and tidal waves crest over jagged peaks adorned with Stockdale and company, while teeming millions gather to scream their lungs out with fists in the air.
A bit indulgent? Extravagant, maybe? Entirely so. But wasn’t that the original purpose of rock music? Americans had had enough with Frank Sinatra gently crooning at the volume of a drinking fountain. Things had to change radically. Like Stravinsky and his riot-inspiring Rite of Spring before them, rock musicians of the sixties shook the world of music in a way that just can’t really happen anymore. When paradigm shifts of music happen every few years the way they do now, music just simply isn’t as era-defining as, oh, the Beatles. And when the world of hard-rock music today is dominated by such acts as Nickleback, Papa Roach and Hinder, Wolfmother is a welcome retrospective cleanse.
So yes, Wolfmother is definitely a throwback band. But when they opened their set with the chest-thumping, psychedelic-tinged “Dimension” on Saturday, I was the closest I will ever be to standing in front of a certain foursome from England that changed rock music forever. And for that, I give Wolfmother three out of three crowns.