GRETA VAN FLEET At Hard Rock Live, Hollywood – The Younger Gods Of Hard Rock’s Pantheon Descend Upon The Florida Coast

March 15, 2023, 2 weeks ago

Words by Jonathan Smith | Photos by Joel Barrios

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Some might argue that rock is dead, but those saying such things have never heard of Greta Van Fleet, let alone taken the time to explain away how a quartet from Frankenmuth, Michigan could have such a meteoric rise since first being signed in 2017. But to those that have been witness to the auspicious affair that is one of their concert events, the mystique behind this outfit’s near instant rise to rock god status falls away and what is revealed is a towering display of raw talent, flamboyant showmanship and technical flair that makes all of the comparisons thrown their way to the likes of Led Zeppelin, The Who and Deep Purple well deserved. Yet even with such feats as topping the Billboard Rock Album charts on the first week of their debut album’s release and prior topping of the U.S. Billboard Mainstream Rock charts via several singles, the notion of such a young band bringing down the house with a grueling, 2-hour set might seem a highly improbable eventuality, but that is precisely what the masses that gathered at the Hard Rock Live in Hollywood, Florida on March 8 would witness.

The volume level of the crowd response would hit deafening levels even prior to the band’s opening number, settling down to allow front man Josh Kiszka to give a philosophically-charged speech to usher in the festivities with the smooth accompaniment of a piano and some droning orchestral sounds provided by brother Sam Kiszka bringing up the background. What would ensue in the coming moments would be best described as a throwback to a modified version of hard rock’s 1970s glory days where the primal energy and fervor of the early post-psychedelic stylings of early Zeppelin would intermingle with the latter-day progressive and heavier musings of outfits like UFO and Thin Lizzy. Banger anthems “Built By Nations”, “Black Smoke Rising” and “Safari Song” were the earliest entries of the evening, showcasing the most infectious hooks of this outfit’s new yet fairly expansive catalog, and also showcasing the band’s most blatant tendencies towards Led Zeppelin’s sound, with vocalist Josh Kiszka often channeling Robert Plant so brazenly that one might almost hear a slight British accent creep in and out of his spoken asides between numbers, while his two brothers Jake and Sam would display similar yet slightly less obvious tendencies towards Jimmy Page’s and John Paul Jones’ stylistic quirks respectively.

To be clear, this event would showcase a band highly similar to the aforementioned icons of late ‘60s and ‘70s rock, but as the set proceeded, so too did the versatility of this fold become more apparent. Middle entries like the bluesy sway of “Caravel” and the jazz-infused, piano driven power balladry of “Light My Love” would see Josh becoming a bit less Plant-like between his lower register’s more mellow and airy character and the extreme fringes of his exposed high range having a fair bit more bite to it, reminding a tad of Brian Johnson during his run with ‘70s rock outfit Geordie, though the more nuanced and vintage guitar swagger of Jake’s contribution to the former song and especially Sam’s virtuosic piano display on the latter would serve to bring this outfit further out of the Zeppelin bubble. Then again, the greatest show-stealing moment for this juncture of the evening would fall upon the only non-Kiszka in congress, namely drummer Danny Wagner. Granted, he would be on fire for the duration of the evening, but the insane drum solo that he’d bring to the table just prior to “Caravel” would sink Captain Ahab’s mighty whaling ship to the continual roar of the crowd in a manner that would make John Bonham proud.

Though the first hour of Greta Van Fleet’s would prove a riveting affair, the coup de grace of their stage craft would be saved for the second, the lion’s share of which would be occupied by a trio of extended performances that would solidify this quartet as the saviors of the art of the jam band. The first of the trio of epic forays, namely “Age Of Machine”, would see a very different character of sound emerge, heavily steeped in spacey progressive rock goodness and seeing Jake’s guitar work transcend the frequent comparisons to Page’s early work for something truly otherworldly, though still heavily immersed in ‘70s stylistic tropes. Subsequent 22 minute jam session “The Weight Of Dreams” would see a similar blend of expansive, guitar-driven showmanship, though the combined atmosphere of the whole arrangement, reflected perfectly by the elaborate use of smoke and stage lighting no less, would end up stealing the show. The end of this colossal trifecta of sound in “Age Of Man”, which would intersect with the set’s encore, would also play up the atmospheric angle heavily and though would only last a mere 11 minutes compared to the 20+ of its two predecessors, would elicit the strongest crowd response between Sam’s mesmerizing keyboard sounds and Josh’s wild, high-pitched vocal gymnastics.

For those who sought a vintage hard rock experience that could bridge the gap between the elder statesmen that originally set the standard and the current generation, what Greta Van Fleet brought to the table could be qualified as the ideal blueprint. The stylistic affinity for the past that is expected to accompany such an extravaganza was clearly in place, but what truly sold this how to the avid crowd that bore witness to it were the many deviations from the original formula that comes with a diverse array of influences and a level of energy and fervor that only the youth this band possessed could hope to achieve. In essence, a title like Dreams In Gold is the most fitting name for a tour that sees a single band in an era where many consider hard rock to be passé defying the odds and reminding everyone just how powerful an organic performance with minimal electronic gimmicks can be when done right. The Kiszka brothers and Danny Wagner may yet be green in relation to the music scene, but their mastery of the craft proved worthy of those who’ve been at it for 50 years on this enchanted evening by the Florida coast.

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