Review by Shawn Perry
Live photos by Mark Jackson
News Flash: Greta Van Fleet are the rock superstars of the New Wave of Classic Rock. And they want to bring you back to 1972 – before they and most of their audience were born – a time when rock, romance, glamor, ambition and presumption came together to spread a free form of idealism – the uninhibited Art, fashion, self-expression and post-1960s revolutionism reigned. Those days consumed every indulgence that the punks declared war on later in the decade (though they welcomed the rewards once their taste of primal anger entered the mainstream). No question about it, the punks would have despised Greta Van Fleet’s very existence.
The 15,000 who attended the band on two evenings at the brand new FirstBank Amphitheater, 30 miles south of Nashville, couldn’t care. It was better to imagine that these shows, carved into the rocky remains of a quarry, could be as magical as Bowie or Queen were in their hedonistic heyday of the ’70s. From the teenage goth girl leaning against the railing, to the big idiot donning a headband, paisley shirt, and frilly vest, to the three or four teenagers dressed in black Led Zeppelin t-shirts United States of America 1977 spotted – it’s clear that the kids want to rock out as much as their parents and grandparents; some were there too.
Short sets from Cedric Burnside and Shovels & Rope – both with hugely talented, pared-down guitar and drum lineups cornering blues and Americana territories – kept an enthusiastic crowd in excitement and anticipation. It had been about 20 months since Great Van Fleet played a concert and with their second full album The battle at the garden gateHolding the momentum, curiosity grew when the all-white stage came into view. It was balanced with strategically placed Twilight Zone antennas, a couple of Marshall stacks, and a number of keyboards on a pedestal for Rick Wakeman and his cloak.
Loads of Beatles and a bit of Jethro Tull were playing when last minute adjustments were made. As the lights spattered the room and dry ice mist filled the stage, you could feel a collective thirst for the first sounds of live rock and roll echoing through the Graystone Quarry – and a flood of new material from Greta Van Fleet. In fact, the two night stand would see the live debut of half of the songs from The battle at the garden gate. What better place for road testing? the new stuff than before the graduate ears and eyes of Music City.
It wouldn’t be easy because of many of the songs by The battle at the garden gate are great in scope and finish. They got straight to the point on “Heat Above”, with Sam Kiszka putting a passage of monolithic keystrokes on the keys to appeal to the audience and make a big show for singer Josh Kiszka, guitarist Jake Kiszka and drummer Danny Wagner. Like any world-class rock band, they turned the amphitheater into an exhibition of ambition and bravery. It was time to celebrate post-pandemic rock and roll.
Early on, they were surrounded by a drum solo with two early favorites – “Safari Song” and “Black Smoke Rising” – which seemed a bit strange in terms of timing. However, it paved the way for more virgin material like Age of Machine. Now warmed up and responsible, Josh Kiszka, wrapped in white overalls and barefoot, raised his arms and led the herd through the verses. To his left, twin brother Jake leaned into the rhyme in a Jimmy Page style nudie ensemble and anchored himself in the song’s driveway. The lights against the white background, props and equipment, and the black and white live video on the stage-side screens of the venue created an overarching, dramatic effect that was deliberate and invigorating in its search.
The band’s front man, whose Freddie Mercury tendencies are still developing, hardly existed. You have to keep in mind that this is a Michigan garage band, not the sublime Cambridge guts. They don’t exactly mix with the royal reigns. However, the band’s growth as a recording artist and performing live is undeniable. They are doing everything to drop the labels, especially the label that sounds like Led Zeppelin, and to venture into new areas. In doing so, they consciously or unconsciously made use of other influences to illustrate their ascent. Hence the flashback to 1972.
They put out the premieres of “Trip The Light Fantastic,” “The Weight of Dreams,” “Built By Nations” and “My Way, Soon” which ended the evening and littered the setlist with solo spots and songs from their 2017 EPs and 2018 album Anthem of a peaceful army. There is no lack of quality and nothing was left to chance when it came to the selection that evening. By staying away from lighter foods like Broken Bells and Tears of Rain, Greta Van Fleet showed that they had come to FirstBank to shake things up.
“Age Of Man” began the three-song encore, and it confirmed any concerns Nashville might have had about the band’s power. It might have been the highlight of the night had it not been followed by an equally tempting assassination of the breakout of the band “Highway Tune”. And suddenly it was there and unfolded in the crowd that had gathered in front of the stage: the Gothic girl, the headband guy, the kids in their zeppelin shirts. They were carried away by the fervor and finally had a real rock and roll band to call their own. Screw 1972, it could just as well be 2022 if everything is to be back to normal. At that time, Greta Van Fleet was set for world domination. In any case, the planet will need it.