Thursday night. 6:30pm. The entrance to the Paramount. Greta Van Fleet is set to perform Night 2 of a 2 night sold out engagement at the Paramount. Doors for the show don’t open until 7:00pm, and yet the line was still longer than I’ve seen for any other show I’ve attended at the Paramount. The line stretched from the entrance of the Paramount all the way to “Four Columns” park (roughly three to four blocks). Folks in the line came from Canada, Portland, New Mexico, among other places, and ranged in age from grade schoolers to “experienced” rockers. Walking up and down the line, scalpers and people selling bootleg merch were in full force.
I’ve been to a few concerts, but the atmosphere around this show was different. With good reason. In 2018, I feel like no other hard rock band has been as polarizing as Greta Van Fleet. From selling out multiple venues across the United States to the scathing review for their debut album, “Anthem of the Peaceful Army” in Pitchfork, the young band has been at the forefront of both a love/hate debate about their relevance in the current music landscape. Personally, for artists their age to accomplish what they have is impressive, and you can’t discount their proficiency at the craft. The kids are talented and deserve kudos for that aspect. With that, I was still curious how they would perform live, which brought me to the Paramount on Thursday.
The night opened with husband and wife duo, Ida Mae. The band was largely unknown to most of the folks in the crowd, but were quickly captivated by the British couple’s heavily blues inspired sounds. Maybe it was the songs chosen or the sound set up, but it felt like the husband of the group was featured more heavily in the performance. He was playing guitar, providing a beat on a foot pedal on a drum, and also providing a very distinct vocal, while his wife provided back up vocals and support on smaller hand held instruments such as shakers. One person in the crowd even remarked that the husband in the group could even be featured as a solo act. Nonetheless, they drew a very positive response from the audience using old school country licks, and (of course) a “Woody Guthrie” cover.
Greta Van Fleet
Being able to see Greta Van Fleet perform live is something special. You’re seeing a set of young talents who are great in their roles, and have legions of fans of all age groups who know the lyrics and can sing along to their songs, but also as you see them perform, you have a feeling like they have yet to peak. The set list was a mix of songs that drew heavily from both “From the Fires” and “Anthem of the Peaceful Army”, equally. Being in that crowd singing a long to “You’re the One”, seeing the younger audience members light up when they began performing “Flower Power”, or everyone get on their feet for “Safari Song”, was nothing short of astounding. These are fans from several generations uniting with a love for these songs.
It’s funny. The easy comparison for this group is Led Zeppelin, but seeing them live I was getting more of a Rush or even Aerosmith vibe. At times, sure the Led Zeppelin vibe was there, but really a lot of the songs had more of a Rush vibe to them in terms of lyricism and musical arrangement, while the performance felt more like Aerosmith. The way Josh Kiszka commanded the mic, felt more like some of the mid to later year work of Aerosmith leader Steven Tyler. His on stage look even was more akin to Steven Tyler’s. I felt like even the way Jake Kiszka performed was more Joe Perry than it was Jimmy Page. Overall, I enjoyed seeing Greta Van Fleet perform live. If there was any knock against their set, I would say the members could do more to command that stage. They were really just moving back and forth, and it felt like they were concentrating, but with good reason as their songs are complex.
I always loved the reviews that dismiss this band as purely a “Led Zeppelin rip off”. I feel like anytime a band can demonstrate proficiency while also drawing these comparisons, the reviewer comes to the defense of the legendary band as if the younger band were coming for the crown. Really, I think these guys are just having fun, while also paying homage to their heroes. I saw elements of Led Zeppelin, but I also saw elements of Aerosmith, Rush, and a number of other 70’s/80’s rock bands. At some point the comparisons have to end. If a band is creating new music and sounds like an amalgamation of seven or so different bands, then the logical conclusion is they must be unique, and really there aren’t many bands in the current music scene on the same level that are as unique as Greta Van Fleet.