Rock ‘n’ Roll is Dead (according to Gene Simmons). Ramblin’ Man Fair this year had aging rockers Mott The Hoople as one of their headliners, there aren’t any young lads 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.
There is a large proportion of ageing Rock fans that want to diss this band due to the blatant borrowing of a style of music, although they can’t quite see that those bands they hold as gods, already borrowed from Blues legends in the first place. Tonight Greta Van Fleet have sold out Manchester Academy 1, and could really have been playing a bigger venue in the city. We are crammed in, all the way to the exits with Classic Rock fans young and old (mainly young though), all hoping that this band will deliver a new lease of life for the genre.
The opening is ridiculously strong with their 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, baggy trousers, necklaces, feathers and moccasins. He walks on to the stage and throws flowers out to various members of this crowd, he sings with the mic a long way from his mouth and raises the odd tambourine in the air. He isn’t going to jump off the drum riser and do the splits, but there is enough energy coming from his other brothers to satisfy the movement brigade.
This opening number has had regular airplay particularly 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 amazingly 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 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.
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 the young girls and 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. They will return soon for more live dates in 2019 and hopefully 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 / The Cold Wind / Edge of Darkness / Flower Power / You’re the One / When the Curtain Falls / Lay Down (Candles in the Rain) / Watching Over / Lover Leaver (Taker, Believer) / Brave New World / ENCORE: Black Smoke Rising / Safari Song
Review & Photos - John Hayhurst