On a near-perfect mid-spring
evening in Asbury Park, New Jersey, anticipation grew as a crowd snaked around
the legendary Stone Pony and its celebrated Summer Stage. Why had such a large
group arrived hours before venue gates were opened? They were there to experience
rising Frankenmuth, Michigan hard rockers, Greta Van Fleet.
With the possible exception of
Ghost, the quartet (brothers Josh, Jake, and Sam Kiszka, along with Danny
Wagner) might be music’s most polarizing artist. Why? Critics believe the band have
worn their influences too boldly on their sleeves. Yet with just two EPs
(2017’s Black Smoke Rising and From the Fire) and their
full-length debut (this year’s Anthems of the Peaceful Army), the group have
not only built a strong international following, but they have also sold out numerous
concerts. The Summer Stage, for example, was sold out in record time. This,
however, did not stop a crowd from filling the streets around the venue and on
top of nearby hotel terraces in hope of joining in on the night’s magic.
As dusk settled in, Greta Van
Fleet strutted out to the roar of the capacity audience. On a stage devoid of a
backdrop, decorations, lasers, pyrotechnics, or any gimmickry, the band
launched into a fiery version of their hit “When the Curtain Falls.” With the
audience signing along—which they would continue throughout the set—the band
moved on to “Black Smoke Rising” and then, their first hit, “Highway Song.” The
high-energy pace was established and would not relent.
There were no audio tapes
employed. There were no choreographed dance moves. And each song was not played
to record perfection. This was a no-frills hard rock concert played with heart
and soul; with unabashed passion by each band member. It is this approach that
sets them above and beyond any would-be peers. Some songs resulted in extended
jams, during which Josh Kiszka’s voice—the consternation of many critics—became
another instrument, complimenting twin and eventual guitar hero Jake’s histrionics.
“Flower Power” was followed by the
group’s current hit “You’re the One.” And with Josh’s stage banter
kept to a minimum, the band would power through a dozen song set that ended with
the great “Lover, Leaver (Taker, Believer).” Encoring with “Safari Song,” the
band left the jam-packed crowd sweaty, exhausted, but thoroughly satisfied.
Easily the best hard rock concert this
fickle, aging music journalist has experienced in a long time, Greta Van Fleet
may help breathe new life into an otherwise stagnant hard rock genre.