by Justin Trudell
“Smoke ‘em if ya got ‘em,” lead singer Josh Kiszka tells the sold-out crowd before the first song of their encore “Black Smoke Rising.” Not sure if that was meant to be a clue to the upcoming song, or instructions for audience members who were “partaking” tonight. I choose to believe it was neither. It’s the perfect way to describe a Greta Van Fleet live show: if you got the talent, may as well flaunt it.
Greta Van Fleet have always been amazing to listen to through my headphones but experiencing them live for the first time was different. They’re so loud, so raw, so emotional. Their music comes off as more spiritual than most other bands. Not as focused on the love and connection of another person, more on the connection with the universe. You don’t hear it as much as you feel it. And there’s no better feeling than the spirit Greta Van Fleet brought to The Fillmore on Tuesday night.
Naturally, because it’s 2018 and everyone has to be a cynical asshole, I started to think of the nitpicking details I could dwell on to keep myself from completely enjoying these local rock heroes reviving a musical genre with genuine soul and passion. But you know what…
Greta Van Fleet are amazing. We could be contemptuous and talk about why they aren’t as good as Band X, or what insignificant details bothered me. Not only would I struggle to find anything to complain about, but that’s the typical angry negativity dominating rock music (and the world) these days. And Greta Van Fleet aren’t about that.
(photos by Anthony Sheardown)
With such a retro sound, it seemed appropriate to have extended solos and psychedelic interludes during many of the tunes, but they were never gratuitous. They never felt like filler, more like an exclusive rendition of what we’ve heard from them on our playlist that only this audience gets to see. An 11-minute track on the debut album from a rock band in 2018 comes off as kind of pretentious, so I doubt you’ll see it on their LP when it drops later this year. But live, you can be immersed in an extended jam session because this is what Greta Van Fleet intended it to be. This is what the song feels like to them, and it can only truly be appreciated in person.
I couldn’t help but marvel at how powerful the performance from everyone was throughout the night. Most impressive was lead guitarist, Jake Kiszka. His incredible energy, his guitar solos that we didn’t want to end, his showmanship, his precision, his look, his joy, everything, it was just so perfect. The crowd and the rest of the band seemed to feed off Jake whipping through a fiery solo, or the slow build of a musical breakdown, or his continued shredding as he threw the guitar behind his head during the second song of the night, “Edge of Darkness.”
That’s not to say the rest of Greta Van Fleet were pedestrian. Lead singer Josh Kiszka was as incredible as you would expect with his soaring vocals. He commands the stage with a subtle confidence that I thoroughly enjoyed. It’s a rare quality for a front man with his talent to seem humble and confident at the same time. Maybe it’s just because he’s so young he hasn’t had a chance to develop into a self-centered douche like typical lead singers. Either way, Josh engaged with the crowd with the gratitude of hometown kid happy to see familiar faces while showing off his talent.
Additionally, the rhythm section was noticeably glorious. Bassist and youngest brother, Sam Kiszka, pulled off the impossible by making it actually seem exciting to play bass. Nearly matching the same vibrant enthusiasm of his older brothers and giving bassists everywhere hope that they don’t have to be lame AF on stage. Unfortunately, the floor was packed so I wasn’t able to see drummer Danny Wagner hanging in the back very well. However, as is the sign of a great drummer, you don’t really need to see them playing, you just need to feel it. The popping of his snare could probably be felt back in their hometown of Frankenmuth. And the rumble from his kit sent a delightful tingle up all our spines, especially with his fantastic solo during “Safari Song” at the end of the night.
The confidence they collectively have is what I appreciated most. The show opened with their most recognizable song – the 16 million YouTube view, 20 million Spotify play, “Highway Tune” – much to the delight of everyone. To lead with your biggest hit when you don’t have much of a catalog as of yet and have the confidence that the show is only going to get better for the audience takes some balls, and they pulled it off. Greta Van Fleet are legit, despite the inevitable effort to discredit their originality, they deserve our full attention.
So, support these guys. Tell your friends how much you love them. Post their songs on Facebook. Play them on the jukebox at the next dive bar you’re at. They have the goods, show them your support and see what these kids can do. “Smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.”
Rock ain’t dead, and it never will be. Because rock ‘n roll is more than just music: it’s an emotion, it’s a spirit. And the spirit is alive and well in Greta Van Fleet.
Edge of Darkness
When the Cold Wind Blows
Talk on the Street
You’re the One
Evil (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
Mountain of the Sun
Lover Leaver Taker Believer
Black Smoke Rising