Train Covers Led Zeppelin and Umphrey’s McGee Goes Far Out at Mountain Jam, Day One
Train's Led Zeppelin II cover set was arguably the musical centerpiece of day one of Mountain Jam 2016, the 12th installment of the annual indie, jam band, and Americana festival at Hunter, N.Y. The band's live version came just a day before the June 3 release of Train Does Led Zeppelin II, a studio recording of the set.
The terra firma of classic rock covers is fairly well-trod ground at Mountain Jam. In fact, Umphrey’s McGee jammed out to Pink Floyd just hours later, and Marco Benevento did two whole sets of groovy, raucous David Bowie covers. But Train took a different approach: They covered Led Zeppelin II note-for-note, scream-for-scream, sweet lick-for-sweet-lick. The squeals and growls singer Pat Monahan and the band’s two guitarists traded on “The Lemon Song” were essentially indistinguishable from their original forms. The delicate organ outro of “What Is and What Will Never Be” was spot-on. Drummer Drew Shoals even did John Bonham’s “Moby Dick” solo, beat-for-beat. Like Bonham in the heady '70s, Shoals stationed a massive gong behind his drum set.
Monahan didn’t hit every one of Plant’s notes, but he hit many of them, and very convincingly. Those shrieks on “Heartbreaker” are supposed to be Earth-rattling. Monahan nailed ‘em.
At times it was easy to just shut your eyes and follow the music. But then to catch a glimpse Monahan making the sex noises on "Whole Lotta Love," hands tucked at his sides Robert Plant-style, was surreal. The band puts on a good masquerade, and they didn’t do any of their own hits. They’re committed to this.
It was only one year ago that Robert Plant himself played the Mountain Jam stage, remixing old Zeppelin tunes in a sludgier, foggier style, including a particularly amorphous version of Led Zeppelin II’s “Whole Lotta Love.” With Plant unwilling to reunite with his former group, it falls to the next band to cater to the classic rock-loving masses. And Train seemed eager to do just that.
The band has said they decided to undertake Led Zeppelin II basically on a whim, practicing the set for months in preparation. Monahan studied Plant's isolated vocals before laying down the tracks to Train Does Led Zeppelin II, aiming to hit every note. "It’s pretty intense," he told Ultimate Classic Rock last month. "We love Led Zeppelin and they were our heroes, so we just figured that we would do it.”
The audience at Mountain Jam loved it, to be sure. No crossed arms, no raised eyebrows — just shaking shoulders and lots of loud sing-a-longs. There was plenty of air drumming. We might have air drummed a bit, too. The set closed out with a version of “Rock and Roll” featuring Warren Haynes, a workout on “Black Dog," and a excerpt from “Stairway to Heaven.” It was all unimpeachable.
Umphrey’s McGee took the main stage about an hour later. It was the band’s fifth Mountain Jam this year, and theirs was a loyal crowd. But even if you weren’t one of the devotees who traveled to the festival from Illinois to see the band, as one couple did, you could appreciate the physicality and attention to detail that go into the band's hairpin progressive jams.
On a few occasions, Umphrey's meandered through hypnotic zones before suddenly swinging into proggier, pricklier runs. During one particularly heavy jam, midway through the first set, Haynes sat in and vamped over a particularly fiery take on the Stones' “Can’t You Hear Me Knocking.” The band’s 2011 tune “Booth Love” yielded a particularly thrilling jam, as guitarist Jake Cinninger drilled out droning, staccato runs as the stage lights flashed above. The stage at Mountain Jam, as ever, was gorgeously lit, a huge, vacillating light show that suits this kind of kinetic instrumental music well.
Umphrey’s McGee wasn’t the first band to dabble in a little reggae yesterday, but they were the first to play a reggae version of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe.” It was, of course, far from exact, with an extended jam featuring Marco Benevento wedged in the middle and a fair amount of floaty improvisation. But that didn’t stop yet another full-throated sing-along.