Can Greta Van Fleet Save Rock & Roll?

By Shawn Perry

Nearly four decades after Led Zeppelin relinquished their crown, innumerable bands and individuals are still trying to measure up to their hard-rockin' hip-shakin' swagger. Who can forget Kingdom Come and Whitesnake in the 80s, both of whom were called out by Robert Plant for their veiled blatancy. In the 90s, grunge bands like Pearl Jam and Soundgarden aspired to Zep's dramatic shrills and crunching guitars with a little more subservience and posturing, but the influence was apparent.

Since the dawn of the 21st century, there's been an even more compulsory deluge of attempts to resurrect the magic of Led Zeppelin — from repeated demands that the surviving members regroup and tour (they obliged with one show in 2007), to retro contortions aligned with the band's evergreen defiance, to an overabundance of tribute bands — all in a futile attempt to save the last shards of "real music" as it slips down a pop-infested, Auto-Tuned rabbit hole.

In more recent years, Wolfmother and Rival Sons tried to claim the Zeppelin throne. Wolfmother's impact was short-lived. The problem with Rival Sons is that Europe loves them, but here in the States, they're still, after five albums, relatively unknown to the public at large. Even an opening slot on Black Sabbath's farewell tour failed to elevate their stature. So, the question remains: Who's next?

Enter Greta Van Fleet...

Hailing from Frankenmuth, Michigan, Greta Van Fleet is a four-piece, blues-rock unit that's selling out shows and garnering rave reviews and headlines in Rolling Stone and The Wall Street Journal. Twin brothers Jake and Josh Kiszka are out front as the band's lead singer and guitarist, with younger brother Sam playing bass and keyboards and longtime buddy Danny Wagner on the drums. At first glance, they look like four normal young men who could have easily owned arena stages in the 70s. And once they launch into "Safari Song," the first song on their eight-song double EP From The Fires, they could just as easily be mistaken for a band that actually encapsulated rock and roll in the 70s — the aforementioned Led Zeppelin.

More than anyone emulating Zeppelin before them, Greta Van Fleet's whole vibe bears an eerie resemblance, right down to Robert Plant's high-pitched nuances, Jimmy Page's layered guitars and John Bonham's rigid, thunderous drumming. I played "Safari Song" for a friend, a big Led Zeppelin head, and she said, "I never heard that one before." Without telling her who it was, I then played "Highway Tune" and "Black Smoke Rising," and she quipped with a bemused look on her face: "Or those either. They're great. Which albums are they on?"

Once I revealed the identity of the band, her response was at once filled with joy and simplicity: "Awesome " Apparently, in this day and age, sounding like Led Zeppelin is not necessarily a bad thing. More intriguing is that Greta Van Fleet, flattered by the comparison, transcend the label by embracing elements of R&B, soul, folk and blues into their repertoire. A cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" is a thoughtful premonition of the group working outside the hard rock bubble. Tackling Fairport Convention's "Meet On The Ledge" is not only daringly esoteric — it gives the impression that there's a lot more going on in the deep end of Greta Van Fleet's psyche than one would suspect.

"Edge Of Darkness" is a little more AC/DC than Zeppelin, and "Talk On The Street" is a high energy romp that may come to define what Greta Van Fleet is really all about. Nevertheless, It's hard to ignore the flavors embedded on "Flower Power," a lofty nod to Zeppelin's "Hey, Hey, What Can I Do" with shades of "Your Time Is Gonna Come." Even so, you find yourself wanting to track through it again and again. One can only hope that after a couple of albums, the group will assert their own character beyond the novelty. If they can do that, then perhaps, as The Wall Street Journal suggests, Greta Van Fleet will "break into the pop world" by reinventing classic rock for a new generation.

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