Greta Van Fleet’s Triumphant Homecoming

The Phoenix Rises for a New Generation

Posted In: Arts & Entertainment, National Music, Concert Reviews, Artist Feature,   From Issue 927   By: Robert E Martin

17th March, 2022     0

The thermometer of success is merely the jealousy of the malcontents.” - Salvador Dali

Back in 1974 Led Zeppelin started their own recording label called ‘Swan Song’ and designed a logo said to be depiction of Apollo, the Olympian god of sun and light, which others viewed as Icarus, who flew too high towards the sun while escaping Crete, causing his wings to melt - in essence making him representative of the rise and fall of a shooting star.

I mention this because ever since Greta Van Fleet first performed back in 2014 at our 28th REVIEW Music Awards, the biggest criticism continuously leveled at the band is that their success is predicated more upon the art of imitation more than the artistry of innovation - a criticism I’ve always dismissed because I’m old enough to remember when people said Steven Tyler & Joe Perry of Aerosmith were ripping off Mick Jagger & Keith Richards; or how when the Stones first broke people said they were ripping off Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters.

With their sold-out homecoming performance at Saginaw’s Dow Event Center on Sunday, March 13th to kick-off their ‘Dreams in Gold’ world tour, Greta Van Fleet proved in no uncertain terms that any comparisons to Led Zep should stop with their logo and fall on the side of Apollo: reaching for the expanse of heaven and opening it wider with new material that sparkles with the passion, heat, and the light of fresh creativity.

When vocalist Josh Kiszka commented at one point that it was 5 years since they last appeared at the Dow opening for Michigan rock legend Bob Seger, I couldn’t believe it had been that long.   In 2018 the band secured the attention of Elton John, who featured them at his annual Oscar Awards AIDS Benefit party at his home in Los Angeles, and shortly after they embarked upon a worldwide tour of their first album in 2018 and 2019, which caught on like wildfire only to be shut-down in 2020-21 from the Pandemic.

Witnessing the band’s performance at the Dow, I was astounded at how much Greta has grown as a band over the past 2 years during the lockdowns. When they started out it was obvious that GVF were heavily influenced by Led Zep; but now it is obvious they  are making that particular style of music their own and taking it into fresh creative directions for a new generation of audience.

With a set list that consisted of Heat Above, When the Curtain Falls, Safari Song, a remarkably impressive and nuanced drum solo by Danny Wagner, Black Smoke Rising, Caravel, Built by Nations, Age of Machine, The Weight of Dreams and My Way, Soon, and an encore consisting of Light My Love, Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer), which was extended by roughly 20 minutes by creatively adding snippets from Brave New World and That’s All Right, and closing out with their early hit Highway Tune, it’s been a long time since I’ve witnessed such an amalgamation of musical focus and spectacle at a rock show.

Particularly telling in terms of their musical evolution was the tight seamless instrumental interplay between guitarist Jake Kiszka and bassist/keyboardist Sam Kiszka and drummer Wagner. The virtuosity and detailed coloration of Jake’s guitarwork was as equally mesmerizing as it was exhilarating; and most notable was the caliber of Sam’s evolution as an organist & pianist.

Back when Greta performed at the Review Music Awards, one of the images eternally etched in my memory is when Sam was checking out Dan ‘Swival’ Sliwinski’s  Hammond B-3 organ and Swiv was explained to him how it worked.   Now the instrument is a significant centerpiece in many of Greta’s new songs - and even as they re-invent some of their older ones - bringing new musical textures and broad dynamics and significant depth not only to their work in the studio but equally to the engagement of their live performances. 

The pace at which Sam has evolved in this manner was a highlight of the show for me.

The last time I interviewed Jake & Josh back in 2017 and asked them about the new material they were working upon that would later appear on their 2nd album, Jake said: “We’re stretching ourselves to create new approaches to songs. We always ask what can we do now that we have one particular sound, so as not to confine ourselves and expand upon it and test the boundaries with it.” 

To which Josh added: “With the 20 songs we have recorded, we’re doing more with acoustical and softer types of material. Our concern was to not put out anything like the first four songs we released on our EP, because people might not respond as strongly. But we have lots of different characters and dynamics. We’re more experimental in some of our technique, but only because it sounds right in an original and stylistic manner.”

That Greta Van Fleet was able to fully and successfully articulate this successful evolution of their sound as a headlining act - replete with state-of-the-art pyrotechnics, immaculate stage lighting, and a sound that was taking all in attendance into a new musical dimension was something to behold. 

As Josh pointed out, this was a moment to savor because we’ll never get it back; but for me, it marked the beginning of a future that is born on the road that dreams are made of.

I can recall a handful of sold-out shows at the Dow Event Center and the former Saginaw Civic Center over the years:  Kid Rock, Bob Seger, KISS, Bruce Springsteen on his River tour, and Stevie Wonder when he came back to do a show at his birthplace in 1986; but never have I seen such a young audience respond with such an energetic enthusiasm that surged on the borderline of mania.

Nor have I seen so many young teenage girls decked out in glitter & sequins chain- dancing and weaving throughout the audience on the floor since the Glam Rock Era of David Bowie & the Spiders from Mars.

I’ve been fortunate to witness an incredible amount of musical talent populate our Great Lakes Bay Region over the decades and many of those artists such as Dick Wagner and The Verve Pipe grab well-deserved levels of national & international attention; but never have I witnessed such a phenomenal level of success on the level that Greta Van Fleet is currently creating.

Back in my 2017 interview, I asked Jake & Josh about the levels of success they were achieving and if one can ever prepare for it.  Here’s what they said:

Jake: It’s pretty significant and I think we’re handling it fairly well. We were all raised right and are caught right in the middle of it right now, so it’s kind of hard to sort where everything is at and where it’s moving because we’re in the eye of the storm and right in the middle of it. It is something you can never totally prepare for.

Josh: Considering that it took me 20 years to get to this point, everything is happening really quickly and you can’t totally prepare for it – nobody really could. There is no class you can take so you have to ground yourself and rationalize things through, otherwise you could go off the deep end very easily.

Whether or not we expected this phenomenon to happen is irrelevant. What’s important is that it is, because now as a musical incubator our region is shining in the light of national attention.

And in a nutshell, this is what Rock ‘n Roll is all about: energy, engagement, and passion.

 

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