Bonham Is a Pale Reflection of Led Zeppelin’s Legacy : The latest reincarnation of the legendary, heavy-metal band gives it a try, but the bluesy, hard-hitting magic is unmistakably absent.

The best that can be said for Bonham is that it is probably more entitled to rip off Led Zeppelin than the rest of the recent-vintage metal kids who are ripping off Led Zeppelin.

Jason Bonham, who anchors the band, has done an assiduous job of preserving the heavy, yet dynamic drumming style handed down by his father, John Bonham, whose death in 1980 spelled the end of Led Zeppelin’s 12-year run. Keeping alive a family instrumental style is not an unworthy aim. But using it in an all-corners rehash of the ancestral past--as Bonham did Tuesday night at the Coach House--is at best unimaginative, and at worst a roadblock to ever finding a musical identity of one’s own.

The young Bonham, in his early 20s, has surrounded himself with a band that might better be dubbed Led Zeppelin Too. Guitarist Ian Hatton did a yeomanly, if nondescript, turn in the Jimmy Page role. Ditto for fellow Englishman John Smithson doing the John Paul Jones bass-and-keyboards routine. But, yowl as he might in blatant imitation, Canadian singer Daniel MacMaster was no Robert Plant.

In his Led Zeppelin days, Plant occasionally mustered some authentic blues passion, distorted and distended as Led Zep’s heavy blues might have been. MacMaster’s white-bread delivery left it open to question whether his blues roots go back beyond 1968. Then again, laden with material as bland and cliched as Bonham’s, even a singer who hums “Dust My Broom” every night before bed would be sorely challenged to achieve much emotional impact.


Of the band’s originals, only the encore, “Wait for You,” sustained much melodic interest. For the most part, Bonham’s melodies would ramble formlessly until hitting a hook refrain designed to be repeated endlessly. To fill out the 1 1/2-hour set, the band augmented songs from its debut album, “The Disregard of Timekeeping,” with several Zep and non-Zep oldies. Little Richard’s “Ready Teddy” lumbered when it needed to jump. The Beatles’ “Come Together” was heavy but serviceable. A mid-set version of Zep’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” was perfunctory, and a concluding “Black Dog,” which Bonham dedicated to his father, re-created the Led Zeppelin hit in a way that would have done any bar band proud.

For someone attempting a Zep redux, MacMaster was a surprisingly unimposing presence, and his voice was seldom up to the high-screech task. Instead of throwing off any of Plant’s sexual shamanism, the boyish-looking singer came off like a wet-behind-the-ears teen-age rocker trying to overcome his shyness and impress the girls. There’s nothing wrong with being a wet-behind-the-ears rocker--but only if you’re trying to sing your own story and find your own musical path. Devoting yourself to weak-tea imitations of Robert Plant is no way to tell any kind of story, except perhaps the one about how to succeed in the rock business without really trying.

Bonham himself has potential. The stocky drummer has mastered his father’s method of laying down a slow, teeth-shuddering beat, but interspersing it with fills and dramatic flourishes that lend a sense of surprise and acceleration. In most of the songs, there were moments--usually during instrumental passages--when that massive beat helped the band scale a peak of intensity. But Bonham would serve his legacy far better by trying to extend it in new directions. He doesn’t have to re-create his father’s band to be his father’s son.

Johnny Crash, a new band from Los Angeles, opened with a limited but spirited set of garage-metal that borrowed from the likes of AC/DC and the Faces. British front man Vicki James Wright (yes, despite the first name, that’s front man ) howled like Rod Stewart might if he stepped on a rusty nail--in a Rod-like voice, only more frayed and less firm. Lead guitarist August Worchell was no virtuoso, but no guitarist can truly go wrong if he follows the when-in-doubt-crank-out-Chuck-Berry-licks approach that Worchell favored.

For most of the show, Wright abandoned the cramped stage, where Johnny Crash was hemmed in by Bonham’s mass of amps, drums, and a dozen extra speakers trucked in to augment the Coach House’s perfectly capacious sound system. The blond, moon-faced singer spent most of the 40-minute set walking tables and running through the audience in an athletic, but ultimately repetitious display. Johnny Crash’s songs quickly became repetitious, as well, with number after rough-hewn number offering the same good-natured but utterly unimaginative bad-boy- rocker swagger.

Far from packing a hint of a threat, Wright was all too eager to flatter a receptive, but hardly boisterous audience with perky, profane patter about what a good time he was having and what an exceptionally rockin’ bunch they were. So that’s what bad-boy-L.A.-rock has come to in 1990: You want to be popular, right? So be sure and make nice.

NIPPER, MEET VINNIE: Originally signed to the independent Cypress label, Orange County folk-rocker Vinnie James has stepped up to one of the majors, RCA Records.

According to his manager, Mike Jacobs, major-label interest in James prompted a delay in the release of his debut album, “All-American Boy,” which he recorded late last year. Cypress is now in on the deal as the production company that funded the recording, Jacobs said, but it will be released and promoted by RCA. The album is due out in late September.


James said he was impressed by RCA’s recent success in breaking alternative acts such as Cowboy Junkies and Peter Murphy. He plans to pave the way for the album’s release with some solo acoustic touring.