Rock ‘n’ Roll is Dead (according to KISS’s Gene Simmons). Ramblin’ Man Fair have aging rockers Mott The Hoople as one of their headliners, there aren’t any young boys or girls picking up a guitar to play the opening riff of ‘Smoke on the Water’ anymore.
However, six years ago in Frankenmuth, Michigan USA, three brothers decided to form a band and named it after a local resident – Gretna Van Fleet, dropping the n of her forename with her consent. These 3 lads had a different view of the world and wanted to recreate those sounds from that 70’s classic period. Borrowing more than anyone’s fair share of Led Zeppelin’s sound book, they broke out of their Bavarian styled hometown and have never looked back.
Tonight Greta Van Fleet are playing the O2 Academy Islington and they have sold it out – twice (playing tomorrow night as well), and should really have been playing the bigger Assembly Hall across the road, so we are crammed in, all the way to the exits with classic rock fans young and old (mainly old), all hoping that this band will deliver a new lease of life for the genre.
The opening is ridiculously strong with their latest single ‘Highway Tune’ and immediately the confidence is as high as the heat in the crowd and the pitch of Josh Kiszka vocals. The screech of his pipes can only be replicated by an average man if he applied a blow torch to his testicles. Yet Josh manages to do this without any apparent physical exertion, he’s not a wild hairy tattooed rocker, or a blonde haired big torso merchant, it’s more cheeky chappy styled by Steven Tyler – plenty of scarves, leather trousers, necklaces and moccasins.
This opening number has had regular airplay on Planet Rock, so I’m surprised they start with it, but it sets the tone for a night of new music done ‘old school’ by these boys who are really only just out of their teenage years.
‘Edge of Darkness’ brings an extended solo from Jake Kiszka played behind his head – Hendrix style, it went on a little longer than most expected – but showcased a talent and his keen appreciation and studying of Page, Townsend, Kossoff et al. He’s also a little less flower power than his brothers – preferring skinny black jeans and boots to bare feet or slippers.
A break in the rocking set when the barefoot bass player and youngest brother Sam Kiszka sits at the keyboard for ‘You’re the One’. We get some sweet Hammond sound on this one which could have been mistaken for ‘Your Time is Gonna’ Come’ and acoustic guitar work from Jake who has perfected the ‘lean into the singer’s mic for the chorus’ a little too much.
It’s at that point when we notice none other than Elton John is staring down at them from the VIP balcony area. The pressure is on for a tight performance, Elton recently requested them personally for his Academy Award party, so he is obviously a big fan.
They show their trad blues credentials with a stunning cover of Howlin Wolf’s ‘Evil (is going on)’ which was so much better than a bizarre opening verse of ‘Blueberry Hill’ earlier, I’m missing a harmonica part though. Sadly, tonight we don’t get their cover of Fairport Convention’s ‘Meet on the Ledge’ which you can find on their album ‘From the Fires’. Preferring instead to end their set with a much-extended funky jamming session on ‘Lover Leaver Taker Believer’.
Encore is a vicious one-two of their big tunes ‘Black Smoke Rising’ and ‘Safari Song’ prompting huge screams and shouts from men 3 times the band’s average age. We even get a bombastic drum solo from Danny Wagner towards the end.
If the jury is out on whether this is all too much of a copycat Zeppelin performance, well the crowds are definitely in, and I’m siding with the majority here who saw 4 young lads from USA give new life to an old genre. Hopefully they will return soon for more live dates and develop their sound further. To ensure proper longevity they are going to need to twist it more to claim their own identity, rather than being the physical form and sound of ghosts from concerts past. However, they do bring an injection of youth, which is fantastic to see, and proving to the likes of Gene Simmons that maybe there is a future for classic rock’n’roll music.
SETLIST: Highway Tune / Edge of Darkness / When the Cold Wind Blows / Talk on the Street / Flower Power / You’re the One / Evil / Mountain of the Sun / Watching Over / Lover Leaver Taker Believer / ENCORE: Black Smoke Rising / Safari Song
Words and Photos by John Hayhurst