Barely a few years ago, vocalist Joshua Kiszka starred in high school plays in his home town of Frankenmuth, Mich.; he aimed to be a film maker. His twin brother, Jake Kiszka, was learning to play classic rock guitar, and their younger brother Sam Kiszka was learning bass. It was only natural that they should form a band. They formed Greta Van Fleet as teenagers in 2012; Danny Wagner joined the band in 2013 after the original drummer left. Greta Van Fleet’s flashy hard rock performances quickly spread beyond their home town. In 2014, Greta Van Fleet released a one-take live EP, now a rarity. Two more EPs were released in 2017, and the band’s debut album, Anthem of the Peaceful Army, was released on Oct. 19, 2018.
Only 16 months since Greta Van Fleet first came to New York City and played the small basement at Esther & Carole’s, the blues-rocking quartet headlined three nights at the cavernous Terminal 5. The band’s success has been rapid and well-earned. It is not so much that the band’s music has changed, but that the music is reaching and being embraced by a wider audience. Even in its early days, the band showed that it had studied Led Zeppelin very carefully. Now Greta Van Fleet has won over the older, nostalgic Zepp fans who have not seen Zepp in decades, plus a younger audience that never had a Zepp in their lifetime. On stage tonight, none of the musicians in Greta Van Fleet had the insurmountable abilities of their corresponding predecessors, but the four young musicians made a very similar sound come alive. The new band performed classic rock-styled songs more credibly than many of its elders. The songs rocked, the musicians entertained as skilled and flamboyant performers, and for all the mirroring of classic rock, the band sounded as genuine as a first generation hard rock band. The band’s ascent is still at the foot of the mountain; expect Greta Van Fleet to headline Madison Square Garden very soon.
Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds/Irving Plaza/Dec. 1, 2018
Arleigh Kincheloe grew up in a musical family in New York’s Catskill Mountains. At age 9, she enjoyed singing publicly with her dad’s big band, singing Nanci Griffith‘s “Love at the Five & Dime,” Bruce Springsteen‘s “Fire,” Aretha Franklin‘s “Respect,” and other cover songs. By age 18, she had her heart broken and started writing songs on piano with her brother, Jackson Kincheloe, who played several instruments but eventually committed to the harmonica. A couple of years later, in 2008, the two siblings moved to Brooklyn, N.Y., and formed a hard soul and funk collective, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds. The band recorded and toured regularly but took a break in 2017 for Arleigh Kincheloe to birth a baby. The band quickly resumed its momentum, releasing its fourth studio album, Gold, on Oct. 12, 2018. Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds presently consists of the two Kincheloes plus guitarist Mark Marshall, keyboardist Nat Osborn, bassist Josh Myers, drummer Dan Boyden, saxophonist Brian Graham, trumpeter Phil Rodriguez, and backing vocalists Deseree Spinks and Lindsey DeSena.
Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds refined its groove in 2009 with a five-month weekly residency at the Rockwood Music Hall. Now almost a decade later at Irving Plaza, the powerhouse band continued to stir a lively blend of soul, funk, blues, jazz, country, and rock ‘n’ roll, powered by soaring, gutsy vocals and fiery instrumental solos and jam. The set was inspired by 1960s soul revues, where passionate singing was punctuated by funky guitar riffs and bold brass lines. Arleigh Kincheloe remained the anchor and centerpiece for each song, as she easily moved from singing smooth verses to belting out choruses. As usual, Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds’ big sound provided the audience with a catalyst for an even bigger party spirit.
John Prine/The Beacon Theatre/Dec. 3, 2018
Born and raised in Maywood, Ill., John Prine learned to play the guitar at age 14. After serving as a soldier in West Germany during the late 1960s Vietnam War era, he relocated to Chicago where he worked as a mailman. He attended open mic evenings, reluctant to perform, but eventually did so in response to a “You think you can do better?” dare made to him by a performer. Prine became a central figure in the Chicago folk revival until Kris Kristofferson discovered and promoted him nationally. Johnny Cash, Bob Dylan and dozens of songwriters revered Prine’s craft, but Prine never became a household name. Prine released his first new album of original material in 13 years, The Tree of Forgiveness, on April 13, 2018; debuting at No. 5 on the Billboard 200 chart, it became Prine’s highest-charting album ever. Prine currently resides in Nashville, but also has residences in Gulfport, Fla., and Galway, Ireland.
John Prine headlined WVUV’s 15th annual Holiday Cheer concert at the Beacon Theatre, a show that also featured performances by the Lone Bellow and Shannon Shaw. Seemingly enjoying a career renaissance, Prine appeared with a full band, something he rarely did in the past, and performed a 17-song set that highlighted songs from his first album, his most recent album, and several collections in between. Prine is a two-time cancer survivor, overcoming squamous cell cancer on his neck in 1998 and lung cancer in 2013, yet he appeared hearty and robust, even unstrapping his acoustic guitar and dancing to the band’s music towards the end of the performance. Otherwise, however, the concert was low key and delicate in its simplicity, commanding attentive listening to comprehend the genius in his lyrics. For the finale, Prine and his band were joined on stage by Nathaniel Rateliff, the Lone Bellow, Shannon Shaw and WFUV on-air staff.
Ministry/Irving Plaza/Dec. 7, 2018
Born Alejandro Ramírez Casas in Havana, Cuba, a 3-year-old boy who would come to be known as Al Jourgensen escaped the newly communist regime and moved with his family to Florida in 1961. In 1964, his mother married a stock car driver and adopted his surname for herself and her son. Jourgensen was raised in Chicago and Breckenridge, Colo. In 1978, Jourgensen relocated from Denver to attend college in Chicago. There, he worked as a radio DJ and played in several short-lived bands, including the backing band of drag performer Divine. Jourgensen also played in Special Affect, a new wave/synthpop band that included Frankie Nardiello, founding member (as Groovie Mann) of My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult, and Harry Rushakoff of Concrete Blonde. Following Special Affect’s split, Jourgensen formed another short-lived band, the Carmichaels. Jourgensen finally found success when he formed Ministry in 1981, through which he helped pioneer the industrial metal movement. Vocalist/guitarist Jourgensen is Ministry’s only constant member; the band also presently consists of guitarists Sin Quirin and Cesar Soto, keyboardist John Bechdel, bassist Tony Campus and drummer Derek Abrams. Ministry released it 14th and most recent studio album, AmeriKKKant, on March 9, 2018.
Ministry introduced the concept of AmeriKKKant on the band’s 2017 tour, but then only played a few songs from the as-yet-unreleased album. This year, the band played the album in its entirety, then returned to the stage for a set of older songs. Jourgensen has always been radical — evidenced by his multiple face piercings, body tattoos and dreadlocks — but the current state of world affairs has radicalized him further. The rage was evident throughout the performance. The first half of the show, featuring AmeriKKKant in its entirety, was social commentary searing with a ripping metal affront, as Jourgensen grunted his vocals and the band tore into blistering power chords. The second set featured eight songs from the band’s commercially successful period, 1988-1992. Coarse singing, chunky guitar riffs, dissonant distortion and echoes, all chugged to a throbbing, pulsing rhythm. Other songs were plodding doom-metal dirges, spiced with Jourgensen’s relentless anger. This was crude, noisy, rip-your-face-off aggro-metal music, as best as it gets.