A few months back I received a text from a friend of mine urging I check out the band Greta Van Fleet. I shrugged it off, thinking this was another recording by some beleaguered teen, reclusively cloistered away in his or her upscale suburban bedroom that happened to artificially manufacture a hit through their computer’s GarageBand app. I was mistaken.
Knowing my friend’s taste, I pulled up “From the Fires” on iTunes and hit sample all. The song making an initial splash was “Highway Tune.” It’s a nasty, guitar driven metaphor about knocking boots with the singer’s midnight honey.
“No stopping’ on the highway girl ~ cause I wanna burn my gas / There’s one girl that I know ~ I’m never gonna pass / She is my special ~ She is my special ~ She is my midnight…midnight yeah!”
My immediate impression was these kids sound an awful lot like Robert Plant and Led Zeppelin from say 1969. The pitch, howl, moaning and beat is all very familiar – almost too familiar. Terms like “Baby Zep” are routinely thrown around to describe Greta Van Fleet. That can be a good thing or problematic. For those who dig on 1970s era acid rock, it’s likely this band will hit your sweet spot.
What this recording did for me was highlight how big a shift there has been in the musical landscape over the past 20 years. Straight up rock-n-roll is dead. Sure there is Jack White, the Black Keys, Kings of Leon, My Morning Jacket, and Queens of the Stone Age, but it’s sparse at best.
I consume a considerable amount of current music, but most I purchase by individual song after scouting new bands, then assemble it into mixes or playlists on digital devices. There is quality rock-n-roll out there but it comes begrudgingly, a single song at a time or maybe another couple if a band has a remotely respectable second release.
With our culture so disposable these days it can’t help but spill over and be reflected in today’s music. I find it no coincidence that hip hop and rap are the prominent driving forces at the top of the music food chain. This genre is joined in popularity by schlocky pop artists that exist through all eras, and by DJs that pump computer driven Electronic Dance Music (EDM), including its spinoff genre of ambient trance electronica. EDM, hip hop and pop are co-dependents, often combining forces into powerful club remixes that can melt a room, especially in a live setting, but it’s of the moment music, that becomes quickly dated and thus disposable.
This makes a band like Greta Van Fleet stand out even more. I seriously didn’t want to like them, but found myself replaying all the sample tracks until they were looping around in my head. This actually got me to jump in my car and make a dedicated trip to CD Central in Lexington to buy a copy of their double EP, a bargain at $6.95. Upon several full listenings to the eight tracks, lasting a quick 32:15, there isn’t a toss away song on the disc, and several deeper cuts exhibit greater depth and complexity than “Highway Tune” or “Safari Song.”
The band consists of three brothers, singer Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka, bassist Sam Kiszka, and their buddy Danny Wagner on drums. These Michigan kids didn’t set out to imitate Zeppelin, in fact being twins Josh and Jake are only 22, and the other two 19, none of them knew who Led Zeppelin was until rather recently.
Their youth is obvious, but it’s the ease with which Josh Kiszka can unleash his vocal range and pitch that opened my eyes. The other impressive aspect to this recording is the precise nature with which they craft these songs, and nail the chord changes and multiple in-song transitions.
Now the fun starts for Greta Van Fleet. “From the Fires” came out in Nov. 2017. They started their current tour with modest notoriety. Since then Robert Plant has given this young band his blessing and their tour stops are selling out around the world.
This scenario reminds me of when the Australian band Wolfmother debuted in 2005. They too had a retro feel reminiscent of Zeppelin’s sound and penchant for science fiction-based song writing. Fame hit hard by the time they were playing the big festivals the following year, but personnel changes quickly followed, derailing their trajectory.
We’ve seen a couple current examples of authentic throw-backs work out quite well in the modern country music scene as Sturgill Simpson and Chris Stapleton have become unlikely vintage heroes, harking back to the days of George Jones, Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard.
Greta Van Fleet has crafted itself a big shadow to fill, being the next Led Zeppelin and savior of rock-n-roll. No pressure boys. I’ll save us all the suspense. They are not the next Led Zeppelin, and they shouldn’t try to be. But they are an accomplished new group that hopefully can keep its head and make some prolonged noise in the music world.