Can these guys from a small town in Michigan save rock and roll by bringing classic rock back from the dead?
The 70s called, and they said contrary to decades of evidence, rock isn't dead - check out these kids from Frankenmuth, Michigan who call themselves Greta Van Fleet.
Like a lot of people, I first heard Greta Van Fleet's "Highway Tune" on the radio last year and thought I was hearing a Led Zeppelin track that had somehow escaped my ears for the past fifty years, or at least forty-five, since it sounded like something left off Houses of the Holy. Did it sound derivative? Absolutely, especially the singer's voice. But it was exciting to hear as we rolled down the road, and quality-wise, far above the other Zeppelin-inspired schlock that has come and gone in the many years since Bonzo's death spelled Zeppelin's demise. Anyone remember Kingdom Come? Anyone under 45 ever heard of Kingdom Come?
What's even more exciting is hearing this young band live, where the reference points of classic rock come so hard and fast they're nearly impossible to pinpoint as they're hammered out in one tune after another: Zeppelin, the 10% of Rush that actually sounds pretty decent, Queen, big chunks of blues, and near constant flashes of music not heard of nor hardly thought of for decades, all rushing back into one's mind as pleasingly as a madeleine dipped in tea as vocalist Josh Kiszka wails like a high-speed blender making boozy drinks comprised of equal parts Robert Plant and Brian Johnson, with the occasional dash of Faces-era Rod Stewart, served with a soaring legato that's a bit mind-boggling to fathom without wondering if it might be aided by the guy manning the soundboard.
Josh's brother Jake has absorbed every 60s and 70s guitar god excess in a way you only wish they did during the 80s, while bassist Sam, the third Kiszka brother in the band, floats around the stage barefoot, forging a bottom with drummer Danny Wagner that consistently swings and hits hard. Normally today's audiences only get this kind of music performed at this level by people in their 60s and 70s who lost their passion for it long ago but can still kick it out for a fat paycheck. Greta van Fleet are are barely out of high school, and they know they're good, despite not yet having released a single full-length album (the band's entire catalog runs less than a dozen tunes so far, including covers).
Their set last night at Washington, DC's Anthem, performed before a sold-out, hugely enthusiastic crowd (the night before they played a sold-out show at DC's smaller 9:30 Club), started off with "Highway Tune" and ended nearly 90 minutes with "Safari Song," (complete with drum solo). That this band can bookend a set of this length with their two best songs and not have anything in between feel like filler at this early stage of their career (five years in, actually) says a lot, and baking Stevie Wonder and Muddy Waters tunes into the jams came off as organic musical curiosity realized instead of facile homage or pandering.
If Greta Van Fleet can come up with another 5 or 10 great (or even pretty decent) songs over the next couple of years, they might well become the last great American hard rock band. If they can improve their song lyrics, which is the band's one glaring weak spot, they might even become the best American hard rock band since Guns N' Roses. No doubt they have the chops, and it will be interesting to see just how far they can go.