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Greta van Fleet – The Met – Philadelphia, PA – December 29, 2019 (A Concert Rev

Updated: Mar 3, 2020

Greta van Fleet – The Met – Philadelphia, PA – December 29, 2019 – Photo by Bailey Allen © 2019

Greta van Fleet – The Met – Philadelphia, PA – December 29, 2019

Greta Van Fleet Completes Triumphant Year, Wowing Crowd in Philly

Greta Van Fleet hit the Met in Philadelphia for the first of two make-up shows to conclude a year of worldwide touring. The show made up for any delay and put an exclamation point on the band’s trajectory.

The new darlings of updated retro rock delivered their recent standard touring set to an energized, capacity Philly crowd. The venue – the newest major addition to the city’s flourishing music scene – was a fitting showcase for this band. The historic 3,500 person, opera-house-style theater (built 1908) on a stretch of gritty north Broad Street, opened last year with a performance by Bob Dylan, after a $56-million multi-year renovation, and provided both the scale and intimacy suited to this returning GVF rock party. (Greta last jolted the City of Brotherly Love at the old Electric Factory, now the Franklin Music Hall, in May 2018.)

Though the band has played to much larger live audiences in their recent travels, an operatic stage particularly fit the exuberant, high-wire vocal style of lead-man Josh Kiszka – the impish singer with a big presence and amazing range. Kiszka opts for high keys that harken to the famous hard- and art-rock bands of recent decades. Burdened and honored with the expectation of bringing back a song-writing style and urgent delivery of the top rock of the 70s, Greta Van Fleet steps through it all undaunted and with their own approach to a new version of the very power rock that they honor and build on.

Only the most casual listeners would deem them imitative, when the catchy riff-based rock songs they deliver feel so original and deftly crafted. But with scarcely a couple dozen tracks released to date, their fast-evolving arsenal cannot yet even be called a catalogue.

Josh Kiszka of Greta van Fleet – The Met – Philadelphia, PA – December 29, 2019 – Photo by Bailey Allen © 2019

Strong Foundations + Hard Work

Concert crowds this year witnessed the second stage of the beginning of a meteoric rise of this group of guys barely in their 20’s. In fact, drummer Danny Wagner was celebrating his 21st birthday on this evening, and all assembled got to join in an a capella rendition of “Happy Birthday.”

Spoken and unspoken by the already loving fans of this band that has endeared itself so quickly to so many is the hope that these boys can weather the popularity that they have gained so quickly. By all appearances, though, brothers Josh, Jake, and Sammy Kiszka have the strength of family, and of a bond cast from playing together since they were kids. Danny has joined the brotherhood, and all seem to have a fallback strength coming as well from the natural world – with this foursome captured more often trekking through national parks, and preferring such outdoors outlets to images of them in rock-life party scenes.

Hey, any band must be down to earth that adapts its name from that of a lovely older lady (Gretna Van Fleet) from the guys’ own little hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan. If GVF minded leaving that very quaint Christmas-y world and breaking up their holiday and well-earned rest leading to New Year’s, in order to finish 2019 in big, bad Philly, they sure didn’t show it. (Other two make-up dates due to Josh’s fall flu, were in Memphis and New Orleans just prior to the holidays.) Their explosive, romping play kept most of the crowd on its feet through the fast-paced 90+ minute show. They delivered their hits with the same fresh pride that has marked their live act since they broke big and suddenly onto the scene barely two years ago.

Jake Kiszka of Greta van Fleet – The Met – Philadelphia, PA – December 29, 2019 – Photo by Bailey Allen © 2019

Within this serious, hard-working group of players, none puts out better than Jake Kiszka, a figure who is more than an up-and-coming six-stringer, instead a musician making an early bid toward a time-honored list of top rock guitarists. He wears the mantel of erstwhile big-time guitar slinger ably and gamely, bearing down on both big and delicate sounds. In the loud, extended, mostly instrumental “Black Flag Exposition,” which has only been presented live so far, the band gladly puts Jake on display, letting him step forward to demo his endurance, focus, grinding chops, and intensity.

That’s What a Rock Band Should Sound Like

Meanwhile during the evening, brother Sammy’s hands and feet danced naturally at the keyboards and his fingers flew across fretboard of his bass with a fluidity that’s completely natural. As with other foursomes of the past that have had the good fortune of a balance that helped them make history, no member of this one outshines or upstages the other.

History is something these dudes have on their side, particularly their knowledge of it. Great rock bands of the past were always deep students of the music that had preceded them and upon which the genre was built. Those now-veteran acts openly paid tribute to the recent past, even as they continued to re-invent it, and GVF follows the tradition, powering their work on “the fires we’ve been told,” as the Josh sings in “Black Smoke Rising.”

Samuel Kiszka of Greta van Fleet – The Met – Philadelphia, PA – December 29, 2019 – Photo by Bailey Allen © 2019

Add in artfully softer gears (“Age of Man”), an uplifting effect, and passionate lyrical commentary – including about love and the fate of the earth – and it’s all part of the recipe through which this band attracts rock fans of all ages. How rare to see a new band with this range of generations following them and pumping their fists in the air as one!

Some of the band’s most telling and encouraging passages came when they played into and extended their album tracks, thankfully stretching certain of them, as they did in their first encore (“Flower Power”). These moments made it even clearer that this is group of substantive players still in the act of becoming – a point punctuated near the end of the show by a thunderous, Bonham-esque, 10-minute-plus drum solo by Danny.

The best rocking bands of the last half-century or more have each delivered in their own unapologetic fashion just as GVF did at the Met, leaving a buzzed crowd wanting more. Rock must be celebratory and confident. And above all, it must have swagger, of which GVF has plenty to spare.

Russ Allen

Copyright ©2020 All rights reserved. Posted: January 2, 2020.

Photos by Bailey Allen © 2019

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