There was a BTS (who?) concert going on at the Staples Center last night, and there were so many people camped out in tents on the sidewalks around the venue that I thought Skid Row had grown even bigger. It turned out that this Korean pop band has a four night sold out stand at Staples - what?! The more you know ... ! Anyway, downtown was packed because of this phenomenon I knew nothing about, and I mention this only because I don't think it will be too long before it's Greta Van Fleet having their own multi-night stand at Staples ... because they are AWESOME.
I'm getting ahead of myself. The Grammy Museum was also sold out, and the Clive Davis Theater was also packed, with rowdy rock fans ready to hear this super-young quartet talk and play. Grammy Museum dude Scott Goldman welcomed everyone, mentioned upcoming events at the Museum (everyone got applause but Shawn Mendes - silence - interesting), and then introduced the three siblings and their childhood friend from Frankenmuth, Michigan that make up Greta Van Fleet (who got their name from an 87 year old woman who lives in their town). Goldman said, "Bob Seeger said 'Give me that old time rock and roll', and that is Greta Van Fleet" ... right on.
Jake (lead guitar) and Sam Kiszka (bass and keys) and Daniel Wagner (drums) took the stage in flashy duds, but could otherwise be extras in Dazed And Confused. Fresh faced and voices still cracking at times, the friends explained that lead singer Josh Kiszka was upstairs resting his voice for the performance part of the night. That seemed a bit diva-like to me, considering he could just sit there with his band and let them do most of the talking, but whatever. The three guys more than impressed without him, speaking eloquently and intelligently to every question posed to them.
The very young men got signed in high school and their Black Smoke Rising EP blew up, with their single "Highway Song" soaring all the way to #2, leading to gigs opening for cats like the Foo Fighters. A dream come true for four kids from Michigan, who never thought this would be their lives. They even met Bob Seeger himself ("It was so surreal, it might not have really happened"), who voiced his approval. Wagner said, "It proves music is a superpower. He's 73 and rocking ... my Grandfather would not be the same." They all grew up in a "vinyl playground", honing their musical tastes on such disparate sounds as Elmore James, Sam & Dave ... and John Denver. "John Denver is actually really important in our upbringing. It was sung around the campfire. It's freedom. It's nature. It's love - which by definition IS very rock and roll.", said the very well spoken Sam (my favorite. Girls always have a favorite member of the band. Only this one I could be his Mom. Weird.). This depth was met by "WOOOOO!" from the crowd - as most everything said and played was.
The guys aren't as impressed with contemporary artists, aside from Lewis Del Mar (who I now have to go look up) and Fleet Foxes and The Black Keys. "Music from the past is so good because it stood the test of time," said Sam in maybe the best defense of their sound ... not that any is needed. They played a lot of bars and a lot of covers as young kids (highly illegally), and would go into bathrooms saying "Please don't be a drug deal, Please don't be a drug deal. I just want to sit and read Tolkien." (Haaa. These guys are also crackups. We loved them all.) They began writing their own material "so our self-identity comes into play", and their first original song was "Highway Song". Wow.
Their writing process "happens organically" with each member bringing in ideas that are pretty close to formed, "and then Josh goes into a closet and writes lyrics in ten minutes." There isn't much sibling rivalry, aside from the usual trying to one up each other that goes down within families - although there have been several broken windows and doors in their home between Josh and Jake (the twins). "Josh is the velvet glove to my iron fist," cracked Jake. They all still seem incredulous that this is all happening ... "We had no idea we'd be professional, we just love it. Not one sliver of thinking this, it's one in a million - and it just happened! I can't imagine a better job for myself - or anyone," said Sam as a matter of fact.
Goldman asked about the "800 pound gorilla in the room", the inevitable comparisons to Led Zeppelin. Wagner answered that they all learned their instruments individually, and we come at each other until it sounds like us." Zeppelin was an inspiration, of course, but it's really because they grew up listening to the same American blues and R & B that Zeppelin did. Greta Van Fleet's debut full-length album is coming out soon (which they revealed to be titled Anthem Of A Peaceful Army - rad), and "It will be new ideas when the album comes out," explained Sam. Can't wait. Of Josh's unreal ROCK voice, Goldman asked, "Did you know he could sing like that?" "No." "He told me in private one day," cracked Jake. Sam added, "We had no idea what he sounded like until we scrounged up enough money to get a P.A." Well, he sounds like a hybrid of Robert Plant and Geddy Lee - who probably wish they sounded like HIM. For real.
The boys in the band are extra mature for their years, saying, "Knowledge and practice breeds evolution. We've had time to mature." Which is kind of funny because the twins are still just 22 - but their manager, Al Sutton, has finely tuned these guys to the point where they can kind of shrug at opening for the Foo Fighters in front of 150,000 people. "He's a genius", said Sam, to which Daniel said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa ... TOLKIEN is a genius!" (They're big fans of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy). Sam went on to say, "We went from 15 year old kids who didn't know how to record an album to 17 year old kids that do." "He reels us back in when we say 'What if we have 100 oracles chanting in the background?" You just want to hang out with these dudes. You'd be highly entertained the whole time - and wouldn't even have to play a note.
They spoke about covers they do, like "A Change Is Gonna Come" (Sam Cooke), "Meet On The Ledge" (Fairport Convention - "That was Dad"), and "Rolling In The Deep" (Adele) - showing the depth and breadth of their musical backgrounds, and willingness to try anything -and it works great. They speak a lot about unity and love, being kind and treating each other better. "Treating each other right is unity. Music is about seeing old guys in the back, young guys in the front at the same show, and it wouldn't happen otherwise - unless it was a family reunion or something." Wise beyond their years, I told you.
Goldman opened the floor to questions, and the first one was what is their opinion of artists who use programming on stage in live shows and don't really play. Sam replied, "I won't be violent to them, but I don't believe in it." Word. Another audience member asked what albums they're enjoying now. That would be Paul Simon Debut and Elton John's Elton John. "Do you have other favorite films besides Apocalypse Now? "No." Haaa. Though they do also enjoy the Coen Brothers. Right on. Asked about advice for up and comers (funny, because they are), Sam the good public speaker said, "Stay in school, don't do drugs ... but really, Parents - encourage your children, because we wouldn't be here without their encouragement." Their parents must be SUPER proud, not only for the rock star stuff, but for what good and kind people their kids seem to be. Asked what else they'd be doing, Jake answered, "Probably this." He knows they're meant to be doing exactly THIS.
"They say you're the future of rock and roll," said Goldman, to which Sam said, "One person cannot wear that crown ... It takes an army." He went on to say, "I didn't know rock and roll was dead, but if you're giving us the responsibility of bringing it back, we'll gladly take it." That was met with cheers, and we broke for a moment for them to set up to PLAY.
OHHHHH, MAN! This band took the stage, and I don't think the Clive Davis Theater has ever been so loud. It was arena rock in your living room, and it was incredible. Josh Kiszka joined his bandmates now (and he is a perfect blend of a young Bob Dylan and Little Steven Van Zandt, for real), in long feather earrings and a headband, and the moment he opened his mouth, it was just HOLY SHIT from thereon out. This kid was born to be a lead singer in a rock and roll band. Period. He has a gift on a Chris Cornell level, and that's me really saying something big. He might even surpass him ... what?! He has a gift that is truly jaw-dropping, and ours were hanging wide open from his opening scream on "Highway Tune". They tore the place up, with still kind of gawky kid movements while playing, while sounding like MEN. We kind of laughed looking at Josh's ink-free, not that buff arms - so far - and wondered how long until he gets a slew of tattoos. It will be interesting to watch the ink progress ... ! Hobgood said, "I can see his cock." ... so he's already clearly very comfortable in the rock star role. Good for him.
The second song was "When The Curtain Falls" and was more grooving and bluesy, and you could see that the guys were having a blast playing it. Jake's guitar playing was super animated, going all out - but then, they all were. Sam began the next one with a nice Zeppy organ intro, and his brother Josh said, "It's called 'Flower Power'", so you know this one was all the way up my alley. Now Hobgood said, "He can fucking SING!" and she was not wrong. My notes are all just "WOW." "Let it WAIL!" and "CHILLS." They built it all the way up until the arms raised crescendo, and then the organ outro. They're already such pros, it's ridiculous. "RIPPING, DUDE!" After that one, Josh said," Is it loud enough?" with tongue in cheek, but some guy in the crowd was like, "LOUDER!" Of course.
They didn't even need to play another one after that, but then they let rip with "Black Smoke Rising", and Josh again just BELTED it. This one sounds very Geddy Lee, and just held those high notes until the room erupted into whistles and shouts of HELL YES! They closed with the big hit "Safari Song" that was what first made people go "Zeppelin" - for good reason. But dare I say, BETTER Zeppelin? Like Zeppelin for NOW. People were standing up and dancing in their seats with arms raised, punching the air, and I have NEVER seen that at the Grammy Museum - and I've been there a lot. And these boys deserved it.
They milked the last chords and drum bangs to put an exclamation point on the greatness of the performance, and the resulting standing ovation (though everyone was already standing) was deafening. Greta Van Fleet took their bows, all smiles, and left us all in a sort of shell-shocked state of having our faces just rocked off. We just all kept saying "Holy SHIT!" and are still humming that "Safari Song" right now. Believe the hype. We felt lucky to see them in such a small venue, because they're right on those BTS heels (again, WHO?), arena ready. It's sure gonna be fun to watch the long road in front of these ultra-talented, peace and love loving guys, doing their best to unite this crazy world through music.
LONG LIVE ROCK AND ROLL! And Thanks to Greta Van Fleet for giving it mouth to mouth. WOW.
*Photos courtesy of Rebecca Sapp for Wireimage.com