Running onstage at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium on Oct. 2, Greta Van Fleet’s Josh Kiszka took center stage in a full-length black leotard, flanked on either side by brothers Jake on guitar and Sam on bass, with drummer Danny Wagner directly behind. Wasting no time, Josh broke into a verbose belt, going straight into their song, “When the Curtain Falls.”
The members of the American rock band Greta Van Fleet have become polarizing figures in the music industry, more importantly to those in the business of music criticism. It goes almost without saying that the band is derivative, oftentimes seen as a faded version of classic rock bands. The band members are riding high on their nostalgia factor, which translates even as far as the clothes that they wear. All four members were dressed as if they were going to a summer-of-love-themed party in one of the multimillion-dollar houses in San Francisco.
Which begs the question: Why listen to them when you could listen to the original source material?
The band’s showmanship is the answer. It can easily be seen as a reinterpretation of classic rock suited for an audience that wants to bask in personal ideas of the glory days of music. You can no longer see Led Zeppelin live, half the Beatles are dead and Mick Jagger is 76 years old. But you can see Jake Kiszka play a guitar behind his head — a move that does make one wonder how many times the young musician practiced that in front of a bedroom mirror.
At the show, the audience was evenly split between people of middle age and those of the band members’ age. And for those wearing some sort of band merch, it was a three-way tie between those wearing Led Zeppelin, Metallica and Greta Van Fleet T-shirts, which is appropriate as Greta Van Fleet has been criticized for sounding eerily similar to Led Zeppelin. Judging the originality of the content is difficult to do, as this is Greta Van Fleet’s debut album, and the band members are so plainly wearing their influences on their sleeves.
But they are far from the only musicians to have done this.
Bob Dylan’s self-titled first album is full of wannabe Woody Guthrieness, and Led Zeppelin has had its fair share of plagiarism scandals. The major difference is the amount of hype that Greta Van Fleet has amassed prior to releasing its first album.
These questions hardly impose on the band’s ability to please its fans, performing its hit “Black Smoke Rising” to a thundering crowd — one ready to sing along to the lyrics and look adoringly at the brothers. The band members are fantastic performers; lead singer Josh knows how to work a crowd, as do the other members who are given an opportunity to shine in their own way, from lengthy guitar solos to spotlights on the keys.
Greta Van Fleet covered several songs in its set, such as “Watch Me” by Labi Siffre and “The Music is You” by John Denver, putting its distinct spin on these classic songs in both cases — which, given the already lengthy setlist, made the show a bit exhaustive. With Greta Van Fleet being very much an equal members band, the show began to drag.
But the audience held on as Greta Van Fleet ended the night with “San Francisco” by Scott McKenzie, which was blended with the band’s song “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer).” One of the standouts of the night was Sam’s superb switch from the bass to the keys, playing both instruments well and showcasing a real musicality.
Greta Van Fleet clearly has some talent when it comes to both performance and musicianship even if lacking in authenticity and originality.
Highlights: “Black Smoke Rising,” “The Music is You,” “Age of Man”
Zoë Cramer covers music. Contact her at [email protected].
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Greta Van Fleet’s drummer was Kyle Hauck. In fact, their drummer is currently Danny Wagner.