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Greta Van Fleet

Artist: Greta Van Fleet

Venue: London, Wembley Arena

Date: 14 November 2023


"As the first three Rock-tastic songs came to a climatic end it was time to change the mood a little. The opening notes of ’Meeting The Master’ chimed out across the auditorium and so begun the first breathtaking moment of the set."

 
© Myke Gray
© Myke Gray

I must confess I was quite excited about going to see Greta Van Fleet. I’ve been listening to their music for quite a few years but until now I’d never had the opportunity to see them perform live. Eagerly I made my way to the prestigious Wembley Arena to see if they would live up to my great expectations.


The moment I walked into the venue I could feel the sense of occasion. The atmosphere was electric with a high level of excitement and anticipation buzzing around the auditorium. The symbiotic relationship between band and fan is always a fascinating thing to observe. One can’t exist without the other. Taking a look around I could see that this was a young audience with a 50/50 split between men and women. To show their devotion many of the fans had dressed up and adorned the same make up as their idols. Excitement levels had reached fever pitch by the time the intro tape started. When the front curtain finally dropped to reveal the entirety of the stage fever pitch quickly turned to hysteria. I was taken aback at how beautiful everything looked. This was a very different approach to the traditional line of Marshall Stacks with menacing backdrop. This was ethereal, exquisite and meticulously designed. Behind the drum riser was a long walkway that reached from one side of the stage to the other. The roar from the crowd became deafening as four silhouettes ascended from under the stage to stand at the centre of the walkway. As of yet not a single note had been played but God-like status had already been achieved in the eyes of their followers. They looked like angels that had just descended from heaven. When an appropriate amount of worship time had passed the four band members made their way down the two ends of the walkway to the centre of the stage. They moved with an elegance that was almost other-worldly.


Bass Player Sam Kiszka was dressed in a flowing crimson red two piece outfit. Guitar player Jake Kiszka wore a black, tightly cut, two piece outfit that was embellished with intricate embroidery. Singer Josh Kiszka was wearing a white two piece outfit that was adorned with silver studs. Drummer Danny Wagner’s white sleeveless outfit which was completed by a black cape gave him the look of a super hero. All the stage clothes looked like they had been hand crafted by a team of elven seamstresses. This was one hell of an entrance. I would be doing the band a great disservice if I didn’t mention the level of ascetic detail that had gone into their stage show.


But what about the music, I hear you ask? Fact! Greta Van Fleet play arenas because they deserve to be playing arenas. This is not your average Rock & Roll four piece. They are an incredibly sophisticated musical entity. As the saying goes “God is in the detail”. Sonically they are connoisseurs and aficionados. Everything sounds authentic and nothing is by accident. People may offer a different perspective, but to me Rock music is built around the sound of an overdriven electric guitar. Hendrix, Van Halen, AC/DC, Metallica etc.; In my humble opinion the most iconic Rock bands are defined by their guitar sound. Jake Kiszka seems to agree with me. Most of the time he plays a ‘61 Les Paul, and I have to say it’s one of the best guitar sounds I have ever heard. It’s overdriven but not overly distorted so his riffs are very clear and distinct. This gives huge size to the band’s overall sound. Wagner is an extremely impressive drummer and sounds considerably more powerful live than on record. Sam Kiszka’s bass sound is as impressive as Jake’s guitar sound. When you think about the classic bands of the seventies, Cream, Free, The Who, Led Zeppelin to name but four, the bass players where not just guys pumping out eighth notes just so a guitar riff can be put on top of it. Their bass lines were integral parts of a musical arrangement. This is very much the role that he plays within Greta Van Fleet’s music.


As important as the guitar is within Rock music, without that instantly identifiable voice it is highly unlikely that any group will reach superstar status. Josh Kiszka has been blessed with such a gift and is one of the best live singers I have ever heard. Having said all that, the sum will always be greater than the parts. The musical telepathy between the three Kiszka brothers is the obvious reason behind the band’s success. The bond between the three siblings is something very special. Mystical some might say. The twins, Josh and Jake, present a yin/yang juxtaposition. A battle between dark and light or an unholy alliance between angel and demon? Younger brother Sam seems to hold the answer by providing the balance needed to stop the whole thing from spiralling out of control. How the drummer fits into all of this only they know, but I’m sure it would make for an interesting interview.


They open the show with ‘The Falling Sky’, taken from the band’s latest album ‘Starcatcher’, a song that pretty much defines what Greta Van Fleet are all about. A classic guitar riff played over a heavy drum groove, glued together by a melodic bass line, with a searing top line vocal melody that majestically sits on top of a sonic landscape. Like all great bands they take their music to another level when it’s played live. Their albums are extremely well produced, but in the flesh there is a vastness to their sound that has more width and depth. ‘The Indigo Groove’ carries on where the opener left off. As another crunching riff reverberates around the arena Josh walks the stage like some kind of spiritual leader guiding you thru a cosmic meditation. I have no idea what his personality is like offstage, but while he is performing he shines like a beacon of love and light. ‘Lover Leaver’ taken from the debut album ‘Anthem Of A Peaceful Army’ sees them start to flex their musical muscles. In a world where many established artists are using backing tapes, it’s refreshing to see a group of young musicians who are confident enough in their abilities to express themselves without any such restraints. The fearlessness of their improvisation becomes a reoccurring theme throughout the entire show. You don’t know if a guitar solo is going last one minute or ten. I don’t think they know either.


As the first three Rock-tastic songs came to a climatic end it was time to change the mood a little. The opening notes of ’Meeting The Master’ chimed out across the auditorium and so begun the first breathtaking moment of the set. A truly beautiful song that transports you to a world of fairytale imagery. The combination of Jake’s acoustic guitar and Josh’s voice is something that will be considered immortal in years to come. There was no doubt in my mind that I was watching a band whose music will be passed on from one generation to the next. ‘Heat Above’ was the first song from the band’s second album ‘The Battle At Gardens Gate’. Sam had now switched from bass to keyboards, a dynamic that took the sound of the band to a new high. Heavenly is the word that springs to mind. It was becoming apparent that these guys live in a world of their own making. It wouldn’t surprise me if each morning rose petals were dropped at their feet as they walk from the bedroom to the bathroom. Joking aside, we were listening to another fantastic song. The fans were in a state of bliss. A lot of love gets shared at a Greta Van Fleet concert. It’s one of the unique selling points that separates them from most other bands.


As the opening riff of ‘Highway Tune’ echoed around the arena the audience roared in celebration. This was the song that launched them into the mainstream and is now quite rightly a bonafide classic. It makes you wonder how it is wasn’t completely obvious to everyone how successful this band were going to become. Slightly unexpectedly, Wagner chose this moment to launch into a drum solo. His contribution to Greta Van Fleet is something that is rarely spoken about, but have no doubt he is an exceptional drummer and what he brings to the band is a big part of their sound. The reason for the drum solo soon becomes perfectly clear. While all eyes were on Wagner, a mini stage was being constructed at the back of the arena. When Wagner’s solo came to a finish the spotlights immediately turned and focused on the three Kiszka brothers who were now all on the mini stage armed with acoustic guitars. They performed three songs, the classic ‘Unchained Melody’ made famous by the Righteous Brothers, ‘Waited All Of Your Life’ and ‘Black Smoke Rising’. Wagner rejoined the brothers after the first acoustic number. This segment of the show demonstrated perfectly how far they have come from their first 4-track EP. To make a sold out arena feel like an intimate club gig in the space of a few minutes is not an easy thing to do. In these moments Josh excels not only as a singer, but also as a great communicator. His engagement with the audience is endearing and makes him extremely likeable. At one point in the show he was handing out flowers and they loved him for it.


‘Fate Of The Faithful’ saw the whole band return to the main stage. In total they played seven songs from their new album ‘Starcatcher’ and I completely understand why. It’s a body of work that shows a quantum leap in their musical development. It’s not unusual for a developing band to wear their influences on their sleeves, but Greta Van Fleet are now building their own pathway rather the retracing the steps of others. ‘Sacred The Thread’ is a song that highlights Jake’s unique rhythm style. To my ear it’s as instantly identifiable as the The Edge, Keith Richards and Malcolm Young. It’s just a matter of time before his name is added to this list of all-time greats. Possibly the most spectacular moment of the set was when he covered the entire distance of the walkway engulfed in flames and playing a guitar solo. It was like a scene from ‘Lord Of The Rings’ and not something you are ever likely to forget. This is a band that knows how to create drama. They close the main set with ‘The Archer’, a spectacular piece of music by anyone’s standards. The audience where obviously enthralled by everything they had seen and heard. The show is so visually intoxicating that it would be very easy to overlook that you are listening to a group of incredibly talented musicians, playing beautifully constructed songs with absolute mastery. The band leave the stage glorified from the adoration of their fans.


It’s not long before they return with the anthem ‘Light My Love’. Seldom have I heard a song so appropriately placed within a set. The audience were singing every word and love had unquestionably been lit up inside Wembley Arena. Once again Josh’s vocals were off the scale hitting stratospheric notes with what seemed like effortless ease. The final song of the evening was ‘Farewell For Now’ which was little bit like the band wrapping their arms around their fans and wishing them all a safe journey home.


I left the venue thinking I had just watched the most beautifully constructed Rock show ever, but as impressed as was I still believe this band has not yet come close to it’s full musical potential. I predict that only greatness will follow and it will follow for a very long time.

 

Review & Photos: Myke Gray

 
 

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