Toledo,Ohio (September 21,2022)-These moments don’t come often enough nowadays in the world of rock and roll. Catching a talented, rising young band, just as it’s beginning to the shake the monikers that have been so unceremoniously attached, deserved or not, as they sell-out venues worldwide and perform their unique music to the delight of hundreds of thousands fans.
Greta Van Fleet — full of grins, sweat and high spirits —was that band that delivered big Tuesday night at the Huntington Center for their Dreams of Gold Tour. Ironically, the only local show on this leg of the tour from the Frankenmuth-bred, Detroit-based rock quartet. It was a special night for the fortunate 8500 who packed into the Huntington Center to watch the three Kiszka brothers and their drummer Danny Wagner inject fresh air into the old classic hard-rock formula, invigorating the long stagnant genre adored by past generations. The 110-minute performance showed off a band that’s clearly riding high on confidence, propelled by self-belief and the empowerment that comes with growing worldwide success.
Let’s address the stigmatism that the band has been encumbered with right off the top: yes, Greta Van Fleet, a Grammy-winning American rock band, has sounded a lot like a certain venerable English rock band on their early releases. In fact, for a while, that was all anyone could talk about when it came to these four classic-rockers from Michigan — brothers Josh (vocals), Jake (guitar) and Sam Kiszka (bass, keys), along with close friend, drummer Danny Wagner — who named their band after an octogenarian grandmother from their hometown.
The band’s debut full-length album, 2018’s Anthem of the Peaceful Army, was a commercial success but the critics still threw out the comparisons carelessly and with malice. Reviews were full of varying degrees of ruthlessness, but they were all united by a theme: this band sounds too much like Led Zeppelin. And, of course, the members of Greta Van Fleet became frustrated by the constant comparisons.
It seems, however, Greta Van Fleet got most of the Led out on the first album. The band’s sophomore effort, 2021’s The Battle at Garden’s Gate, still leans heavily on ’70s rock influences, but it sounds more like pastiche of its members’ entire vinyl collection crafted neatly into a sound uniquely their own that still pays homage to the hard rocking jam bands that influenced a genre in the late 60’s and 70’s.
So, the music’s nothing groundbreaking on the well travelled path, but so what? That doesn’t make it bad and it certainly makes for fun, as evidenced by the unencumbered appreciative roar of the fans at Tuesday night’s concert.
Greta Van Fleet came out fast a furious right as the curtain dropped, starting the 12 song set with “Built By Nations,” off The Battle at Gardens Gate that featured the first of many guitar solos by the extraordinary guitarist Jake Kiszka. Frontman Josh Kiszka swanned the stage during the next two songs in a white jumpsuit with sequined flowers and a fabulous gold matching coat. Relatively slight in stature — most report him in at 5’6” — but he’s a huge presence, his voice absolutely hitting those rafters as he tore through the fan favorites “Black Smoke Rising,” and “Safari Song,” much to the delight of the sold out crowd.
Allowing the fans to “catch their breath,” Danny Wagner cut loose with a massive drum solo from while frontman Josh Kiszka was being ferried around the floor handing out white roses to adoring fans. Not a sight you would often see at a rock show but for the females in the first few rows in front of the stage, it is a memory that wont be forgotten anytime soon.
Guitarist Jake Kiszka’s muscular riffs served as an anchor for his brother’s voice, particularly on “My Way,Soon” and the Rush-indebted “Heat Above'” from the latest album. Bassist Sam Kiszka’s got the spot light on his Hammond M103 organ on “Light My Love” a slow swooning ballad that served as gatekeeper to the point where all comparisons ceased.
The back half of the set gave both guitarist Jake Kiszka and drummer Danny Wagner ample room to stretch out and flex their chops, particularly on the dramatic “Broken Bells” the first of the extended solo heavy cuts played in succession. “Age of Machine” and “The Weight of Dreams” took the main set out with an extended face-melter of a jam. (The main set only had 10 songs, but was also somehow an 90 minutes long.)
After a quick well deserved break offstage, the band returned awash in violet light with a iridescent haze for an encore that included a powerful, guitar heavy take on “Age of Man,” from Anthem of the Peaceful Army segueing into a full-on performance of “Highway Tune,” showcasing Greta Van Fleet at their absolute best. The band’s instrumental virtuosity is undeniable, and Jake Kiszka, a prodigious guitar player who was often the centerpiece of the performance — played a portion of the song with his guitar behind his back as his brother Josh, the vocalist, worked the stage in his now legendary white glittery jumpsuit, bringing the Tuesday evening jam session to conclusion.
There was no question about the quality of musicianship that was on display at the Huntington Center Tuesday night. Greta Van Fleets distinct guitar heavy sound reminds you of the legendary rock bands that came before it, and maybe even directly inspired this band. You can live in the past and throw the “sounds like…” comparisons around like some spoiled child trying to be a critic. It may have worked in the past, but Greta Van Fleet has grown and created a sound that is uniquely theirs and rendered the comparisons moot. Don’t believe it? Listen to the latest album, The Battle at Gardens Gate or go to a live performance and then debate that ambiguous question with their legion of fans. Better yet, you just might become a fan yourself.
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