Featured image courtesy of the amazing Hannah Schooley. Check out her concert photography at hannahschooley.com
Is Rock N’ Roll Dead? Over to Greta Van Fleet for the answer.
Any youth obsessed with the bluesy rock and roll of the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s could easily be excused for a short bout of despair about the music industry’s current state. Rock and roll has become distinctly unfashionable amongst ‘millennials’ and ‘Gen-Z-ers’. On telling a fellow teenager that we like a bit of classic rock and blues, it is not uncommon to be met with a comment like, ‘Haha… So you like dad music?!’, or perhaps, ‘Don’t dudes with greasy long hair listen to that stuff?’. I’m not kidding. I’ve had those thrown at me before. We might even get booed for sneakily adding ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ or ‘Whole Lotta Love’ to a party’s Spotify playlist. Therefore, it’s unsurprising how we young rockers have mastered the art of sitting in the corner, quietly chanting, ‘Rock is dead… Rock is dead…’ as we lament over the same, homogenised pop or hip hop tracks, with their bland vocals and monotonous, drum machine beats, over and over again. We refuse to accept today’s mainstream music as the soundtrack of our youth, but also question whether we can truly claim our beloved Hendrix, Cream, or Rolling Stones songs as our own. After all, can we say that music written 30 years before we were born is really the soundtrack to our 21st-century youth?
Fortunately, that question may not ever need to be discussed… After stumbling upon a Rolling Stone article about a new band from a small town in Michigan, and reading of how they ‘look, act and sound like they were grown in the lab of some classic-rock-loving mad scientist’, I thought my dreams had come true. I quickly popped over to Spotify (one of the few things born out of this century that I don’t angstily resent) to listen to Greta Van Fleet. The first song I clicked on, ‘Highway Tune’, which climbed to #1 on mainstream rock music charts within 15 weeks of its release last spring, instantly appealed to me. The gritty riff played by guitarist Jake Kiszka, and the ballsy, wailing vocals of his twin brother Josh, were such a perfect match. In minutes, I’d picked up my Les Paul, cranked up my little amp, and was jamming along in a state of pure bliss. I then went on to listen to the rest of the songs in their double EP, ‘From the Fires’, and continued to be delighted by the raw energy and likeness to my favourite tunes from the 70s that their songs gave off. With a newly-uplifted mind and soul, I searched ‘Greta Van Fleet UK tour dates’ (thank goodness for Google) and delightedly handed over far too much money to StubHub for a ticket to their sold-out Birmingham O2 Institute gig two days away. Having not been to a gig for over a year, I spent the next 48 hours in a state of excessive excitement. I knew that this was going to be something very special indeed.
After a wonderfully twisty, delayed car journey into the bright lights of Birmingham, I was met with a daunting queue and panicked that I wouldn’t get prime spot at the front of the concert (a common worry amongst us short music lovers). Fortunately, these were nearly all metalheads heading to the Testament concert , and so I skipped across to the barrier’s far right, where the wannabe famous guitarist inside me knew I could study Jake Kiszka’s style and playing technique. Before the music began, I chatted with an Irish fan of Greta Van Fleet, who had flown over to the UK for a chance to see the band. We both had a laugh about how few friends we have with similarly retro music taste. In the meantime, the small venue filled with fellow rockers and an energetic, upbeat atmosphere.
The support act, London-based rock and roll band, The Second Sons, opened the show with tremendous energy. Lead singer Nick Harding, and his brother, Chris, on rhythm guitar, looked and sounded like they had popped over from the ’70s for a quick visit. (I was jolly impressed and intrigued by how Chris looks like an exact hybrid of Mick and Keef). The audience loved them, singing and whooping along at Nick’s command, and were rewarded by band t-shirts flung at us, one of which I snatched. Lead guitarist, Marco Cinelli, played tastefully, showing his skill in fingerpicking and slide guitar, whilst drummer, Alessandro Cinelli, and bass player, George Price, kept the tempo going with great vigour throughout their set. Their music reminded me strongly of several Rolling Stones hits, and so I would not say The Second Sons’ music is the most original, but they certainly produced a class act of gutsy rock and roll. The band have been around for two years, and will evidently still be finding their feet in terms of their sound, having released only one original single. However, the 45-minute set they put on to support Greta Van Fleet showed great promise, so I wish them all the best for their future, and certainly hope to see them in concert again.
As the intermission’s music faded away, the level of excited tension in the venue peaked. Voices hushed and died down along with the stage lights. Soon, two small figures, and two taller, appeared, taking their places on the small stage before the now whooping and cheering audience. Although tiny in height, the charismatic Josh established his great onstage presence as he greeted the crowd and joked about what sort of drink he might be hiding in his white cup… Meanwhile, his equally small twin brother, Jake, casually slung his original ’61 Gibson SG (then still called a Les Paul) around his shoulders and ripped into the opening bars of ‘Highway Tune’. We immediately began clapping along in time to Danny Wagner’s thumping drum rhythm, getting ready for the Robert-Plant-like wail of ‘WOOOAAAH MAMA!’ we knew Josh was about to let forth. The Kiszka twins’ younger brother, Sam, also added his usual melodic flair on bass as he pranced about the stage barefoot, showing off some funky socks (a signature look of Sam’s). The band exuded such a mature quality in their performance that it was really quite remarkable to stand back and remember that nobody in the band was over the age of 21 (Josh and Jake are 21, while Sam and Danny are 19).
The show continued on the high which G.V.F. kicked off their set with. The audience sang along to all six of their original songs from the double EP. Jake’s five-minute jam during ‘Edge of Darkness’ was tastefully done, and certainly not just an excuse to shred random notes and impress us with how he could play behind his head (!). ‘Black Smoke Rising’ seemed to be a crowd favourite, along with ‘Flower Power’, where Sam switched over to keys to play an extended synths intro. The band’s closing performance of ‘Safari Song’ saw Jake joining in with Josh for the howls of ‘YOUR HEART!’ in a very Joe-Perry-&-Steve-Tyler manner; Danny also threw in a ferocious drum solo, perfectly timed, to build up the energy levels right before the last crunchy chord from Jake’s Marshall would resonate through the room.
SO… All in all, I was delighted by the concert Greta Van Fleet put on for us Midlanders last Saturday. This was the second night of their UK tour, and, since then, social media has indicated that the other gigs went down very well with the rest of the country. Sir Elton John, who had G.V.F. play at his Oscars after-party, also showed up to one of their London performances to show his support – that must have been terribly exciting for everyone there! Guns N’ Roses are another big name that seem to approve of the boys, having them lined up to support three of their Not in This Lifetime Tour stadium concerts. Robert Plant (whose voice Josh’s uncannily resembles) also passed on good words about the band in an interview. However, the rock and roll world seems to be somewhat divided in their feelings towards Greta Van Fleet. There’s no mistaking the sonic similarities between G.V.F. and Zeppelin – this has meant plenty of listeners are sceptical, saying that they are too similar, and are even a Zeppelin rip-off. On the other side, though, there are those who believe that yes, G.V.F. have undoubtedly been influenced by Zeppelin, but are yet to release a full-length album and really establish their own sound. I belong to the latter. Sure, Greta Van Fleet certainly haven’t reinvented rock and roll, but there’s no denying that they are bloody good what they do. They are bringing a real breath of fresh air to an industry saturated by rap and very ordinary pop songs. Hell! Greta might even be the young band that brings rock back to the mainstream and give other pioneering rock and roll bands a surge of confidence to keep working at what they love. I definitely left that little O2 Institute room feeling inspired and hungry to jump up on stage and show the world that I’m ready to rock as well.
And so, to answer this article’s titular question, ‘Is Rock & Roll Dead?’: no, it most certainly is not.