September 27, 2019. Almost a year to the day after first seeing new Rock phenoms Greta Van Fleet I had the pleasure of seeing them again. Much has been written both in the press and online about this band. In one short year they have taken the Rock world by storm. With four Grammy nominations and one award for Best Rock Album under their belts, the public has taken notice. They have been selling out virtually everywhere. Online, there are plenty of detractors who disparage them, claiming they are no more than Led Zeppelin imitators. Live however, the discord between those loving this band and those who don’t is not a factor. They are an immensely popular live act. That being said, it made me wonder: now with a full LP release under their belts – 2018’s “March of the Peaceful Army”, would they be that much better this year with more songs to draw from? I couldn’t wait to see Greta Van Fleet rock the beach to find out!
I took the hour-long drive to Asbury Park, NJ’s Stone Pony, where the band was playing on the venue’s summer stage. It is an outdoor stage with a higher crowd capacity than the Stone Pony’s indoor venue which is basically a bar. Not learning my lesson from last year, I arrived about an before the gates were due to open, only to be greeted by a line that stretched around a full city block. Once security opened the gates, the line moved swiftly, however. Hoping to get up close, it just wasn’t in the cards this night. I ended up about eight standing “rows” back. The crowd was a mixture of young and old. I saw quite a few families there; teenagers with their parents and young children as young as three years old. It was a chilly evening. There was a strong, steady wind blowing from the beach toward the venue, the stage facing east towards the ocean. Windscreens that were tied to the sides and the back of the stage were constantly being pushed to their full extent by the wind. Before sundown, the warm-up band – Ida Mae came on. They were a two-piece husband and wife team from England that sang Blues numbers as well as original compositions. Singer/guitarist Chris Turpin, playing mainly slide on an acoustic resonator guitar with no backing band, took turns with his wife, Stephanie Jean singing. They were quite good, in a decidedly un-electric way. Playing for about forty-five minutes, the crowd gave them enthusiastic rounds of applause.
Darkness soon fell as the chilly winds continued to blow. About an hour after Ida Mae’s departure, Greta Van Fleet took the stage to the fans’ uproarious delight. They took to rocking right away – opening up with the first release from the new album; “When the Curtain Falls.” They followed that up with “Black Smoke Rising” off of the “From the Fires” EP. Returning to straight-ahead Rock, they dove right into “Highway Tune.” “Flower Power”, “You’re the One” and “Age of Man” followed. Ironically, the second song on their new LP is called “The Cold Wind” which would have fit the conditions perfectly that night but they didn’t play it. Between songs there were musical interludes before and after, allowing the band to stretch out and show you what amazing musicians they are.
As young as these guys are, they are seasoned professionals. Playing in bands in one form or another since their early teens, (the elders Jake and Josh now the ripe old age of twenty two) improvisation comes second nature to them. Being that Led Zeppelin were masters at improvisation in the early days, I can see where some fans would compare the two. The fact is, that this band can do the same thing at nearly the same level as the band that preceded them, which is an accomplishment in itself. Jake, while being immensely talented, especially for someone so young, is not Jimmy Page. To be fair though, Jake is an excellent player and much younger than Page was at his zenith. Solid, while not flashy – he doesn’t repeat himself and doesn’t make mistakes. His guitar sound is very organic. He keeps everything simple, using primarily just his guitars and amps with very little in the way of effects. He is adept at playing rhythm and lead at the same time ala’ Billy Gibbons. In this format he would have to be, being that there are only three instruments in the band, most of the time. He played his Gibson SG exclusively during this set, switching to acoustic for “You’re the One I Want.” He is also very adept at playing slide. This is amazing to me as younger players seem more concerned with speed than playing bluesy guitar. Jake is a throwback for sure and really, the whole band is. Bassist/keyboardist Sam to me is their ace-in-the-hole. Besides holding down the bottom end with the bass, the barefooted one is a wunderkind on keyboards. At times he will be playing a part on piano with one hand while playing organ with the other hand simultaneously. As if that is not challenging enough, he’ll play the bass parts with his feet on the organ pedals as well. Move over, Geddy Lee.
They continued; playing the songs “Black Flag Exposition”, “Watching Over” and the latest single “Lover, Leaver” before finishing up with the smash “Safari Song”. It’s pretty amazing how they stretched only ten numbers into ninety minutes of entertainment. What was even more amazing was that as they played, the crowd including myself seemed to forget about the chilly winds blowing. In kind of a Woodstock moment, we were all huddled together – singing the songs and rocking out to one of the best of the new bands out there. It was quite a surreal moment. I can only look forward to when I see them again for more of the same. If you want to hear good, organic Rock and Roll with just the basics – solid guitar, bass, drums (with the occasional keyboard) and amazing vocals you need to check them out.
Have you seen Greta Van Fleet in concert? What’s your opinion of them?