Greta Van Fleet: Can Four Boys From Michigan Revive Classic Rock?

By Sophie ReVeal

On a Wednesday night in early May, Baltimore witnessed a rare revival of classic rock -- sensational riffs, pounding bass, and hair-raising vocals from a lead singer already compared with the likes of Steven Tyler, Roger Daltrey and even Robert Plant himself.  Greta Van Fleet (GVF), four young musicians from Michigan, took the stage and demanded the venue’s attention, working their way through a setlist of 12 original songs. Born and raised in Frankenmuth, GVF consists of three brothers: 22-year-old Jake Kiszka on guitar, his twin Josh Kiszka on lead vocals, and their 19-year-old Sam Kiszka on bass. Their life-long friend, Danny Wagner, also 19, is on the drums. Immersed in classic rock since childhood, all four longed for real rock ‘n’ roll to once again occupy the spotlight of mainstream music. They began playing together in 2012 with an ambitious goal: to reintroduce rock to a generation infatuated with genres like rap.

P1000394.JPG

Greta Van Fleet opened the show in Baltimore with “Highway Tune,” the first single they ever released and the first of their songs to reach the number one spot in Billboard’s mainstream rock chart. The crowd went wild and the band fed off the positive energy as Josh Kiszka’s soaring vocals set the tone for the rousing show to follow.  They played six new songs, likely to be featured on their first studio album and six from their EP “From the Fires,” omitting only the two covers, “A Change is Gonna Come” and “Meet On the Ledge.” The crowd eagerly ate up the new material and sang and danced to the songs from the EP that they knew beat by beat.  The crowd was enthralled as the band demonstrated not only their talent, but their love for their instruments. These boys are real rockers. They used everything a voice, guitar, bass and drums have to offer.  

P1000363.JPG

It must be said Greta Van Fleet is frequently likened to legendary rockers Led Zeppelin. Not only does Josh Kiszka sound eerily similar to Robert Plant, but lead guitarist Jake Kiszka seems to channel Jimmy Page with his thundering licks -- even wearing his own fringed jacket with no shirt.  They might borrow liberally from the classic 70s rock era, but GVF have developed their own sound building on Jake Kiszka’s interpretation of classic rock and Texas blues riffs -- all without the use of special effects.   Add to this Josh Kiszka’s charismatic front and GVF have earned their current acclaim in their own right. The very first two singles ever released -- “Highway Tune” and “Safari Song” -- both reached the number one spot in Billboard’s mainstream rock chart. The band had hardly begun its tour of the United States and Europe when suddenly their name was everywhere: on the line-up for huge American festivals such as Coachella and Austin City Limits, on nomination lists for various music awards, and in the headlines of articles of numerous publications such as Rolling Stone Magazine and Guitar Player. All of this occurred without having ever released an actual full album.

P1000230.JPG

The potential is thrilling but some critics still question whether or not classic rock with its undeniably white and misogynistic past can still be relevant in the 2018 #metoo era.  Case in point: the majority of the crowd in Baltimore was made up middle-aged, white men.  Indeed the band has noted that the age of their fan base is a challenge.  But pressed against the barriers in the very front was a hopeful sign.  A small collection of young college-aged adults eagerly compared notes as they awaited the show. From the moment the guys took the stage, the audience was captivated, regardless of the ages present.

The 2018 GVF tour with opening act Dorothy is selling out small venues all over the country.  Dorothy, another throwback rock ‘n’ roll band fronted by an imposing lead singer Dorothy Martin, has itself earned credibility amongst rock advocates.  The tour had three recent sold out shows in Detroit and continues to add dates as interest grows.  Meanwhile, loyal GVF fans patiently await the arrival of their first studio album.  

P1000457.JPG

But can classic rock transcend the past? GVF’s powerful sound -- the sort of music that gets you in the gut -- is hard to deny. Every time I introduce a friend or family member to GVF, I get the same reaction: “this is recent music?” they ask, or “they’re how old?”  It is hard not to hope that this could be the start of something.  Thus far, their lyrics are mostly whimsical and even romantic -- echoing some of the mysticism of their rock ‘n’ roll ancestors.  But it remains to be seen if they can build on this promising start and begin to incorporate the issues relevant to their peers.  The talent is undeniable. Jake Kiszka has the guitar chops and Josh Kiszka has the pipes, but will they find their voice?

Greta Van Fleet plans to release their first full album sometime this summer and, according to their most recent schedule, they will be touring until at least December of 2018.

Sophie ReVealComment