For all their groaning and moaning over the proliferation of cover bands in town, the Charleston band scene hipsters (or is that hip band scenesters?) usually can’t help but throw their support behind a full-on “tribute act” — especially one connected to the hard rockin’ guilty pleasures of their younger days. From the seasonal TNT, GN’R Lies, and Abbey Road Live shows to the consistently delivered Zoso gigs, cover bands who specialize in a rock legend’s catalog qualify as “cool” over any beery tavern house band. Even the “genre” tribute acts stand pretty tall. Just check out the packed crowds at Hair-e-oke’s weekly heavy metal karaoke event at Cumberland’s; it’s usually the club’s busiest night of the week.
Part of the lure and appeal of attending a tribute band’s live show and raising a clenched fist in approval lies in the emotional and physical release of energy, all at once, to a familiar, non-threatening novelty. Whether it’s the thickheaded power chords of Quiet Riot’s “Metal Health,” the lovably off-key vocals of a fake Ringo singing the Beatles’ “Octopus’s Garden,” or the opening riff of Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love,” the joyful effect is usually similar — as long as the band delivers the goods on stage with the right “vibe.”
Making their Charleston debut this week, newly-formed Asheville, N.C. quartet Custard Pie plan to pay tribute to the heavy-duty rock of Zeppelin with a respectful approach and an unusual twist: female vocals in the place of Robert Plant’s howl.
The name is based on the lead-off track of the 1975 masterpiece Physical Graffiti — a song based on various early blues recordings, including Blind Boy Fuller’s “I Want Some Of Your Pie” and Brown McGhee’s “Custard Pie Blues.”
The lineup features two former Charlestonians: David Jones on bass and Rhett Thurman on vocals. Jones grew up listening to the punk and new wave of the early ’80s (as anyone who remembers his high school garage band, Modern Art, may remember), but maintained and nurtured a fascination with Led Zeppelin, preferring the expanded arrangements of Presence to the hits of I and II. Thurman (daughter of local artist Rhett Thurman) came up checking out Woodstock-y classic rock, too, and fell in love with the band’s entire catalog.
“I listened to Physical Graffiti in seventh grade and couldn’t believe my ears,” says the singer. “I was awestruck and addicted. At that point in your life you’re beginning to try to define yourself, and when I heard Led Zeppelin, I really identified with it. Your music is part of who you are, and Zeppelin is part of who I am.
“What they did with the blues was unprecedented, soulful, raw, and earth-shattering,” she adds. “They exposed the underbelly of the emotion in that music as it had never been done before.”
Jones and Thurman hooked up with busy N.C. guitarist Woody Wood (formerly of The Blue Rags and Hollywood Red) during the summer. They recently added drummer Jamie Stirling (ex-Drug Money, The Merle) and played a series of shows around Asheville.
What makes Custard Pie’s approach to doing Zep music different from other cover/trib bands doing a similar thing? “I think we’re unique in the respect that instead of trying to emulate Zeppelin and play everything just as they did, we’re giving people our individual interpretations of their music and how we would play it,” says Thurman. “It’s more like we’re paying homage to them, rather than trying to be them. That would be blasphemous since they are some of the true rock lords.”
“No one can be Led Zeppelin, so why try?” adds Jones. “We have no interest in looking like them or acting like them or even doing a show like them. We just want to play this music to the best of our abilities and have a great time doing so.”
Custard Pie are gonna groove at Cumberland’s on Wed. Dec. 14.