By Ed Barrett
Hands up all of those who are – shall we say – slightly agnostic about the idea of covers bands . . .
Well me too, really. At least I would be, if not for the fact that there are some bands it’s just not possible to see in person.
I was barely one year old when Jim Morrison died, effectively ending the incredible run of great albums by The Doors (bonus points to anyone who can name all three albums they released afterwards*), and I was around ten years old when Led Zeppelin split up; so both of those bands – whose music I later came to love – fall into that category.
I’m lucky enough to have seen Ray Manzarek and Robby Krieger perform together as Riders on the Storm, and also Jimmy Page and Robert Plant perform as – well, Page and Plant; but even those concerts are a distant memory now. Under the circumstances, it seemed worth a punt to go and see The Classic Double performing all of the tracks from two outstanding albums: LA Woman by The Doors, and Led Zeppelin IV.
Arriving at Camp and Furnace feels a little like visiting one of the clubs in New York’s historic meat-packing district, with the functional aesthetic retaining many features from the building’s warehouse past, whilst the sound and lighting systems, bar design, and various other eclectic fixtures and fittings giving it a totally contemporary feel.
The one note of caution came from arriving just as the DJ decided to play a Doors track – an invitation for hubris if ever I heard one.
I needn’t have worried.
What became clear as soon as the band started playing was that, whilst they had clearly paid close attention to the groups they were here to emulate, this performance wasn’t the result of any imitative, academic, anorak-ish study of a type that would surely drain even this great music of life; this was a group of extremely capable musicians honouring music they clearly love.
It wasn’t just that they played songs well (which they did – very, very well); they also captured the totally-tight-yet-laid-back vibe of The Doors, with Stuart Capstick’s near-perfect vocals gliding, soaring, swooping through the dreamy-yet-focussed music provided by Luke Heague (lead guitar / mandolin), Joel Goldberg (bass), Adrian Gautrey (keyboards / guitar / vocals), Mike Gay (guitar), Adam Goldberg (drums) and Luciana Mercer (percussion / vocals).
This was never more evident than on their version of Riders on the Storm, with the moody, atmospheric sound of the song matched by some very nicely chosen blue lighting that somehow seemed to enhance the already powerful connection between band and audience. This may well be the best cover version I’ll ever hear, of any track, by any band.
That said, tracks such as LA Woman, Love Her Madly, Hyacinth House – hell, pretty much the whole playlist – were performed beautifully, to the clear delight of a hugely appreciative, incredibly diverse audience.
All of which made me wonder how the same band would fare when covering classic tracks from one of the heaviest rock bands of their era. I can just about imagine, in some parallel universe, Jim Morrison fronting Led Zeppelin; but it would surely be a very, very different band with him at the mike.
This mental query was answered after the break, with Stuart Capstick making way for Gary Brown on vocals, whose infectious, playful energy would probably have won the crowd over even if his singing hadn’t been up to scratch. As it was, this theory was never tested – suffice to say, it’s a good job we were in an industrial building, as between them, he and the band would otherwise have blown the bloody doors off (excuse the pun).
From the outset, it was clear that the same tightness seen in the previous half would be put to good use, this time allied to an almost bombastic explosion of musical dexterity on tracks like Black Dog and Rock and Roll that had the room bouncing.
With Keith Thompson adding an extra layer of subtlety with some great harmonica playing on When The Levee Breaks, the band once again had the audience in the palms of their hands.
Perhaps most moving were the more folk-tinged tracks from the album. When percussionist Luciana Mercer joined the vocal section, for example, her voice and delivery dovetailed perfectly with lead guitarist’s Luke Heague’s sensitive mandolin playing, making The Battle of Evermore one of the highlights of an evening’s entertainment that was as immersive and involving as it was impressive.
All of which left me, by the end of the gig, mentally name-checking all of the other bands, albums, and tracks this great band might do equal justice to.
This was my first time seeing The Classic Double; it certainly won’t be my last. (* For the bonus points – the final three Doors albums were Other Voices, Full Circle and An American Prayer).