I'm in a Led Zeppelin tribute band called Dazed and Confused. A couple months ago, we entered the Ultimate Music Challenge, a giant 11-week battle of the bands with 40 competing acts held at Viejas casino outside San Diego. The top prize is $25,000. I didn't want to do it at first, because I despise battles of bands, but my bandmates talked me into it. Just this once.

jasonjoe.jpgOur first round was May 16. We had a 20-minute set and filled it with two songs: "Kashmir" and our take on Zep's "Whole Lotta Love" live medley. They run the event American Idol style; each band plays their short set and stands there while three judges tell them how they did. It turns out one of the judges hates medleys. Imagine someone who hates hearing bands play "Stairway" or "Freebird" or "Smoke on the Water". That's how much he hates medleys. But we made it through, just barely. We actually tied in point total with Oingo Boingo tribute Dead Man's Party. The judges voted for a tiebreaker and chose us. Dead Man's Party later advanced on the wildcard slot as well. Check out the judges' blog and videos and pictures from the show.

So we rolled our way into the semis. Dios mío, man. Forty competitors down to ten. The show was just a few days ago, June 13. This time we had a 25-minute set. That means three songs, coming from Zep's catalog. We played "The Song Remains the Same", "Since I've Been Loving You", and "How Many More Times". These three are among my favorite songs to play with this group. I practiced TSRTS to death for the whole week leading up to the show, then filled it with clams upon performing it. That is one tough opener. No one but my favorite person mentioned the screwups though. "Since" went really well. Everything just disappears when I play that solo. It's my favorite Robert Plant performance ever, and our singer, Jason, nails it every time. The judges commented that we took a huge risk playing such a long, slow song in the middle of a 25-minute set when the audience expects to be rocked. They said it paid off big time. It hadn't occurred to any of us that it was risky, but we'll take it. "How Many More Times" got the people moving good and hard. It was a great closer, even though we botched the special extended ending we threw together right before the show. (Lesson learned, please.) And I got more compliments about the violin bow than I've ever had after a show.

In the ever-awkward post-performance critique, we received nothing but positive remarks from the judges. I think. I wasn't really listening. We ended up with the highest point total of the evening, advancing to the finals this Sunday, June 20. We'll be competing with Radio Karma, Damage Inc., and Super Magnetic. Check out the judges' blog and videos and pictures from the show.

I won't divulge our planned setlist for Sunday, but verbs like "kill" and "slay" and "facemelt" have been thrown around in band emails.