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.