Last night, 28 May 2019, Toronto’s Echo Beach was host to a raw, energetic rock n’ roll concert that could’ve easily been lifted from the 1970s — and it didn’t involve any senior, septuagenarian legacy acts whose greatest hits all hailed from that era. The stage was confidently dominated by four adolescents from Michigan, half of whom are too young to buy alcohol in their home state. They call themselves Greta Van Fleet.
Opening with their debut album’s first single, “When The Curtain Falls,” Greta wasted no time in regaling the crowd. The bluesy hard-rock number would’ve felt comfortably at home in a Led Zeppelin setlist from 1970.
Comprised of a smooth, rocking bassline, booming drums, rollicking guitar solos and a howling, almost limitless vocal range, Greta’s concert transports listeners to the glory days of rock music. Back to the Future’s Dr. Brown may have claimed the secret to time-travel was accelerating his DeLorean to 88mph, but Greta Van Fleet has whipped up a concoction of their own — guitarist Jake Kiszka hitting 88 notes per bar on his 1961 Gibson Les Paul SG.
Jake Kiszka and his twin brother Josh took turns under the spotlight, while their third, younger brother, Sam Kiszka kept the rhythm running on bass and keyboard as the underrated act of the night. The band’s heartbeat, drummer Danny Wagner, meanwhile, channelled his inner John Bonham, with drum solos harking back to the venerable rockstar’s performance in songs like “Moby Dick.”
Greta’s secret sauce for a great concert is improvisation — they don’t try to replicate their studio recordings. Three-minute songs like “Highway Tune” extend to ten-minute jam sessions with blistering guitar solos galore. It’s raw, unadulterated rock and roll at its finest. Greta treats the concert as an entirely different medium than the studio record. In the studio, they’re polished, calculated, and perfectly timed. On stage, they’re unhampered and spontaneous. They don’t hold back, flexing their musical prowess, Greta exudes their talent through lengthy, improvised solos. In the studio, you get multiple takes and edits to nail each note. When it’s live, there are no second takes, you have to deliver, and the boys from Michigan do indeed deliver.
Playing through their setlist of hits compiled from their initial EP (From the Fires) and debut album (Anthem of the Peaceful Army) Greta signed off for the night with their most heavily Zeppelin-inspired number, “Safari Song”, which blends a groovy guitar riff and a catchy verse with a dash of Robert Plant’s signature howls of “mama.”
If I was previously thinking “It’d be great if they covered Whole Lotta Love,” I was only left asking myself, “Is there an Uber service that can take me back to 2019?”
For years rock fans have been wistfully yearning for an era enamored with the blues-infused hard rock of the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, circa 1972. Greta Van Fleet is part of rock and roll’s rebirth, circa now.