Last summer, Greta Van Fleet played their Los Angeles debut at the Viper Room on the Sunset Strip. It was a mere half-hour showcase designed to introduce the band to music industry professionals. The gig was sold out, and whether it was nervous energy on the part of the band or just inexperience playing away from their home base of Frankenmuth, Michigan, what the packed club witnessed that night was a performance that while certainly competent would not be described as exceptional.
A mere nine months later they headlined the Ford Amphitheater in Hollywood, and this 1100 seat venue was also sold out. In fact, during ten months of relentless touring they’ve pretty much sold out every date. Oh, and done a few side projects like jamming with Elton John at his Academy Awards party, playing Coachella, and having their songs rise to the top of multiple music charts.
There’s no substitute for road experience, and nine months of almost nonstop touring both nationwide and in Europe will definitely get a band tight. GVF opened with the song that began it all, Highway Tune which got a rousing reception from the crowd. This was followed by Edge of Darkness, both from their EP From The Fires. Although the faces were the same, (Josh Kiszka/vocals; brothers Jake/guitar and Sam/bass and keyboards; Danny Wagner/drums) as a unit they seemed light years removed from the band that was on the Viper Room stage less than a year ago. Poised and confident, they played with a purpose. The ending to Edge of Darkness was a very extended jam that allowed Josh to showcase his considerable guitar skills, including playing behind his back while Sam displayed some fretboard fireworks of his own on the bass.
Speaking of the bass, during the following song Talk on the Street Sam broke a string. Guitarists breaking strings are common; bass players almost never. As Sam didn’t have a back-up instrument his tech had the difficult task of trying to change the string while Sam kept playing. Fortunately for Sam, bass tech and the audience, the next song was Flower Power, which allowed Sam to set the instrument aside and sit behind the keyboards.
Anyone who’s followed Greta for any length of time is well aware of the Led Zeppelin comparisons, and Flower Power is perhaps the most Zeppelin-ish tune they play. The intro and outro both feature haunting keyboard solos, and Sam did beautiful work on both. The Southern California night was unseasonably cold, and the haunting melodies went perfectly with the chill in the air and the stage smoke that was billowing forth.
The 75-minute set was comprised of most of the songs on From the Fires, a cover of blues legend Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil as well as four unreleased GVF originals (When the Cold Wind Blows, You’re the One, Watching Over and Lover Leaver Taker Believer). Although unreleased, they are widely available as live versions on YouTube, so they were familiar to the audience.
For the encore, the first song was Black Smoke Rising, which is one of the band’s most popular tunes as evidenced by the crowd singing along on the “whoa, woah” prechorus. The final song of the concert was Safari Song. Towards the end of that tune Greta’s secret weapon, drummer Danny Wagner was unleashed. By this time the audience had gathered in the aisles at the front of the venue, and they bore witness as to why Wagner gets comparisons to the late, great John Bonham. Drum solos can be tedious, but Wagner pounded out an amazing version that had the crowd in awe.
And then it was over. An impressive effort, especially in light of the message the band later posted on their Facebook page explaining that they cancelled night two of the Ford Theater run due to Josh being sick. It also stated that he started feeling ill the afternoon of the first night but still insisted on playing the gig. His voice was a little thin on some of the songs and he had trouble hitting the highest notes on Edge of Darkness, which in retrospect makes sense given his illness. Other than that, the only criticism is that it would be nice for Jake, Sam and/or Danny to recreate the backing vocals live that are on the studio tracks. Jake did sing harmony vocals on one song, but he would lean in to share Josh’s mic. It makes for a dramatic visual, but the range of a vocal mic isn’t more than a few inches so the sound was spotty. A dedicated vocal mic for Jake to use would be much more effective—but these are the things that come with time and experience. Given the exponential improvement in Greta Van Fleet’s live show in only ten months, and a full-length album being worked on, what will the next ten months bring?
CLICK HERE to view more pics from the show.
*Note from the Publisher: Our apologies for the delay in publishing this review, we upgraded our server and had a myriad of bugs to work out, we’re good to go now! Thanks for your patience and understanding.