On May 31, 1977, “Beatlemania” debuted on Broadway, and played for 920 performances, which may be described as the birth of the tribute band. The actual Beatles played only a fraction of this number of live shows after finding fame soon after Ringo replaced Pete Best on drums. Add in troupes like Rain and Strawberry Fields and others portrayed the Beatles more times than John, Paul, George and Ringo played themselves.

Groups such as Journey and Judas Priest have replaced original members with musicians that played from similar acts. From Elvis Presley impersonators to copiers of Kiss in kabuki makeup, tribute bands have become a force in the music industry playing from local clubs to the Las Vegas circuit. Two fine examples of such showmanship rolled into the NYCB Theatre at Westbury on Friday night.

Hammer of the Gods and MAD CO. recreate concert experiences many fans would have on a wish list of what was, but can never exactly be again. MAD CO. took the stage, and banged out a set of Bad Company hits that had many in the the hometown crowd hollering, dancing, and clapping along in their seats. The nine song set included “Rock And Roll Fantasy”, “Can’t Get Enough”, “Shooting Star”, and the namesake tune, “Bad Company”. Lead singer Robert D. Weir explained that he does not want to “imitate Paul Rodgers”, but pay tribute to Bad Company’s music. The audience was clamoring for an encore, but Weir explained that due to “time restrictions” this was not possible. From the crowd’s reaction, it seems they will hear the next song from the band at their next show. Weir said this may be “at Jones Beach next year”.

Hammer of the Gods recreates the look and sound of a Led Zeppelin show circa late 1970′s. The production includes wigs, vintage clothing, double-neck guitars, and a recreation of John Bonham‘s signature Ludwig drum kit. It was easy to become lost in the moment, and feel as if a time warp transported the audience back to a classic “gig.”

The group opened their twelve song set with “No Quarter”, and it did not take very long for them to find a stride that many bands take most of a show to reach. Numbers included “Rain Song”, “What Is and What Should Never Be”, “Trampled Underfoot”, “Moby Dick” (drum solo), “Misty Mountain Hop”, “Kashmir”, and “Whole Lotta Love.”

A measuring stick of how closely a band can resemble the original Led Zeppelin for a night musically and visually would involve an experiment including Hammer of the Gods. Having seen Zeppelin with Phil Collins at Live Aid came across as a pleasant novelty, but this evening was somehow overall more musically fulfilling that the a fore mentioned teaser with three of the original members on hand. Having said that, nothing could replace seeing Jimmy Page, John Paul Jones, and John Bonham on stage together, but this is as close as we may ever reasonably come in the foreseeable future.

– Bob Wilson

The show was produced by MAD CO. bass player Billy Dee and Vision Entertainment. The schedules of both bands can be viewed on Facebook and their websites – Hammer of the Gods and MAD CO.