Concert Review: Greta Van Fleet Is a New Nostalgia for Everyone
Watching them play the Electric Ballroom in London.
My plane landed in Heathrow at noon, but by the time we made it through customs, sat through city traffic, and got to the hotel, it was after 5:00. I would need to get halfway across the city to pick up my tickets from the StubHub office before 6:30 and then get to Camden Town where Greta Van Fleet would be taking the stage at 7.
Needless to say that with an hour and a half left, I was a damn nervous wreck.
I’d purchased the tickets in a mad fan-girl dash after finding out that Greta Van Fleet would be playing the Electric Ballroom, a small venue in the Camden district, at the same time as my family’s vacation to London. But it was starting to look like it had all been for nothing, as my dad and I wandered aimlessly through the confusing madness of the London Underground like a couple of idiots with only 40 minutes left to go. When we finally gave up and scurried to the street level, we hailed a cab like a couple of damn tourists, and made it to the venue. A man selling tickets out front laughed at our hurried appearances, and informed us that not only were we early, but we’d have plenty of time to stop off somewhere for a pint.
“Go ‘round the corner, there’s a nice pub there. Come back ‘round 8:30 for the opening act,” he informed us with a thick Cockney accent.
“Are you here for the show?” seemed to be the most asked question amongst the patrons, each one incredibly excited about the prospect of seeing this new group. With Percy Sledge and David Bowie serving as background music, we were all buzzing as we talked about what we were about to witness.
And, in all honesty, who the hell wouldn’t be buzzing over Greta Van Fleet?
Their 2017 release, From the Fires, saw them make their way to a peaking spot on various Billboard rock charts. Their insane live performances made them a fan favorite on this year’s festival circuit. Their looks have gathered a huge demographic of adoring female fans (because duh, look at them). Their sound, however, has earned them countless comparisons to Led Zeppelin, which is accumulating a struggle for the group when it comes to cementing their own signature sound and personas. When asked about their influences in interviews, the four are more likely to refer to Taj Mahal and Eric Clapton instead of Zeppelin, which Robert Plant himself noted in an interview. He scoffed and rolled his eyes, when he explains that lead singer Josh Kiszka “[said] he based his whole style on Aerosmith.”
Greta Van Fleet
"Highway Tune" pic.twitter.com/AWRqbjh2Gf
— Bandsworld 🎸 (@Bandsworld) June 14, 2018
Being hailed as the deified second-coming of Led Zeppelin is probably a difficult act to keep up, but if it is, Greta Van Fleet certainly doesn’t show it. Videos from Shaky Knees and Coachella display a confident young group who really enjoy playing for the masses; their assertive stage presence is absolutely stunning. But seeing them in a smaller venue was much more illuminating. The Electric Ballroom is an iconic venue in the midst of eclectic Camden Town, and has hosted the likes of The Clash, Sid Vicious, Joy Division, and even Paul McCartney. When Greta Van fleet took the stage, after an insane opening performance from the Sheffield-based band Sheafs, I was simply blown away. No matter where you were standing, you got the full effect of the group’s intensity.
I stood in a small archway nook, comfortably between the assimilating crowd and the bar. Every time I looked around I saw people of all ages, all styles, all demographics. The punk rockers of Camden had wandered in to mingle with retro bohemian types. Fan-girls with sharp elbows pushed their way to the front. Two middle aged guys stood near me, and every time Jake Kiszka played a solo, one of them kept shouting, “Jimmy Page!” People hung onto every lyric and every solo, staring dazedly at the stage at a group that is truly unlike anything else out there today.
Josh Kiszka’s vocals seemed to come out of nowhere. He emerged, a short dude wearing a traditional Indian kurta (I’m not sure why either) with a feather headband tied around his forehead, and I was honestly skeptical as to how the leather-jacket clad crowd would react. But he made it immensely clear through the opening notes of the band’s best-known single “Highway Tune” that he’s a serious powerhouse. His screams come effortlessly. When you watch him onstage it looks as though he isn’t even breaking a sweat as he strikes Plant-like poses and stares down at the audience beneath him with a confident glare.
Jake Kiszka, Josh’s twin brother and the group’s lead guitarist, is a striking polar opposite to Josh’s flower child, similar to the contrast of Plant and Page in the sense that one is clearly a more darker force than the other. His guitar skills are incredibly unique to today’s music, thanks to his immense background knowledge of the blues, and he possesses an electric stage presence that could be remnant of any major rock guitarist of the 70s, if he didn’t add such a signature sound of his own. Unlike his twin, who tends to shy away from his Robert Plant comparisons, he stated in an interview for Guitar World that when it comes to Jimmy Page comparisons, he embraces them. While performing, he stalks his way up to Josh’s microphone to sing background vocals, then grooves back to his own stage area while thrashing to the rhythm.
Speaking of the rhythm, enter yet another Kiszka brother. Sam Kiszka is the youngest of the three siblings, at 19, and wins the Most Likely to Dress Like a Woodstock Attendee Award for the night: at some point during the set, he loses his brown suede vest and simply goes shirtless. His baselines move the songs along with an undeniable groove, while 19 year old drummer and Non-Kiszka Danny Wagner’s powerful beats are the driving force behind the group’s indomitable sound. If there was to be a modern drummer to combat the likes of Keith Moon, John Bonham, or (dare I say it) Ginger Baker, I’d bet on Wagner.
While every song on the setlist was an instant hit with the crowd, the ones that truly stood out to me were “Flower Power” and “You’re the One.” “Flower Power” was truly a crowd favorite, having been one of the standout tracks off of the group’s album, and radiates folky, mystic rock. “You’re the One” was a song I didn’t recognize, and I’ll be duct-taping my fingers crossed for weeks to come that it ends up on their upcoming album release. The vibes of the track were sunnily acoustic, and the eldest Kiszkas harmonized on the chorus of “You’re the one I want/You’re the one I need.” It really doesn’t get more 70’s-AM-esque than that. It’s also worth noting that the band broke into an incredible cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil,” citing that their blues references push a lot further back than just Led Zeppelin’s interpretations. But don’t even get me started on “Safari Song.” This song was the insane encore that the crowd deserved, but it was also the total showcase of just how far the band can go.
It became increasingly clear to me that the group’s Led Zeppelin correlations are the least of their worries. They’re obviously an immensely talented band who perform with the aptitudes of musicians beyond their years. It’s completely irrelevant to dwell on the fact that they’re carbon copies of Zeppelin. It needs to be spoken of that they have the opportunity and the potential to completely influence the course of the modern rock genre to a similar form of the gritty, blues-based music of the 60’s and 70’s. Which is exactly what we need right now, in a time where the Billboard 100 is topped by talentless pop singers. With an upcoming release in their future, as they’ve been hinting, it will be interesting to see what new directions they will be taking.
I Tumblr-searched for “Greta Van Fleet” a while back when I first heard about them. It pulled up a text post from a fan’s blog that said, “Is this how our parents felt?” I didn’t get the post at all, as it was a little vague and felt pretty overdramatic at the time. The phrase kept creeping in the back of my mind during the show due to the vintage nostalgia that each song brought. It suddenly hit me. There really isn’t another band like Greta Van Fleet in the mainstream playing the type of rock and roll that our parents witnessed in the days of their youth.
It was a popular story from my childhood that my dad almost went to a Led Zeppelin concert during their last American tour and that whatever the forgotten reasoning was, he’d decided to skip it. He told himself that he’d catch them on the next tour, but a few months later, John Bonham would die and the band would break up. Every so often I’d look over at my dad, who’d valiantly conquered London’s public transportation to come to the show. He kept craning his neck towards the stage from a spot near the bar while sipping a Red Stripe, a comforting import among local and unfamiliar brews. At one point, he had his eyes closed, head banging along to “Black Smoke Rising.” When the song was over, he cheered wildly.
I finally understood.
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