Comebacks, 70s edition with Greta van Fleet

Newly popular band Greta van Fleet heated up the Armory on July 3rd with their classic rock-inspired tunes.

Who is Greta van Fleet? It’s a valid question, and it’s one I asked myself as I stood amid a crowd of screaming young adults and head-bobbing baby boomers at the Armory theater in Downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday, July 3. The band in question jammed away on a hazy stage, electric guitars screeching and drums thoroughly banging, dressed in what looked like a combination of bad-boy, grunge accessories and whatever other garments your hip grandma fished out of her closet that morning. It sounds a bit shaky, but it was good look. It brings back that 70s thrift store aesthetic with an edgy touch. The lead vocalist wore a long-sleeve turquoise blouse with a necklace of wooden beads and feathers. He might also have been wearing giant feather earrings. Or was it a feathered headband? I couldn’t be sure.

Are they a Led Zeppelin revival? No.

Are they a rising boy band? Most definitely not.

The group formed circa 2012 in their hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan, inspired by the rugged, garage rock tunes of the 70s. They took their name from that of 87-year-old Frankenmuth resident Gretna van Fleet, though they notably dropped the “n.” Now, 22-year-old twin brothers Josh (vocals) and Jake (lead guitar) Kiszka, their 19-year-old brother Sam (bass, keys) and family friend Danny Wagner (drums) are touring the United States with their new double EP, From the Fires.

Everything about Greta screams vintage rock n’ roll. The LP cover art for their (arguably) most popular song, “Black Smoke Rising,” looks like its promoting one of those epic, saga-promising 80s movies, with an orange vignette bleeding off the page and the band members wearing faraway looks. Their opening song, “Highway Tune,” sounds like it should be played at the beginning of an action film, as the dark hero drives down the freeway in a red beater truck. Its steady 8-note intro on the electric guitar accompanied by a genuine rock n’ roll wail via lead singer Josh Kiszka was what started their show at the Armory.

For as young as they are, the band members are exquisitely talented. I watched as bassist Sam Kiszka traipsed across the stage, busting out chords. Meanwhile, his brother Jake turned backwards and perched his guitar on his shoulder blades, shredding a guitar solo to end their second number. The band transitioned effortlessly from one song to another, touting brilliant songs from their new EP and covers of older tunes. The first 15 minutes concluded with an ear-splitting yell from the high tenor Josh and a satisfying drum solo from Danny Wagner.

And the fans drank it all in, whistling and thrusting up their arms, hands displaying two-fingered “rock-on” signs. Josh asked, “Who here likes the Blues?” Naturally, almost the entire crowd flung their hands in the air again and screamed, though he probably could have asked whether they like trash can lid street anthems, and everyone still would have cheered. The group launched into a DIY cover of “Evil” by Blues artist Howlin’ Wolf, though with quite a lot more howls than the original. It was a stark contrast: Josh frozen, hands in the air like a priest giving a sermon, belting out a husky final note while Wagner flailed around on the drums behind him. A quick crescendo and cymbal crash later, the spell was broken and the lead singer was back to cracking jokes in his tribal getup.

An intermission of freestyle rocking ensued, with the band injecting bits of familiar old rock tunes into their sets, complimented by a light show that matched the band beat for beat. Things went on like this for maybe 45 minutes, probably a bit too long of a romp. But thankfully, Greta van Fleet cranked it back into gear for the encore, Josh cheekily muttering, “I hope you aren’t near any windows” as the familiar tune of fan favorite “Black Smoke Rising” burst throughout the room. Oohs and aahs followed the band off stage as we all stood and stared, mentally playing back the aggressively entertaining bout we had just witnessed.

I left that night with my ears ringing and my head rattling, and I admit the sounds of Greta’s epic first EP have been stuck in my head for the past 24 hours. In fact, they’re still stuck in my head as I write this. They bring a refreshing new timbre to the modern music scene, and I’m not just saying that because I grew up on my dad’s classic vinyl, or because I was sick of videos from the Harry Styles concert that flooded my Instagram Monday night.

Greta van Fleet has mastered the style of the hard rock days of yore, and they’ve combined that nostalgia with their own progressive flair. Couple that with a wildly delightful performance on stage, an impeccable sense of fashion and a lead singer with a voice reminiscent of greats like Zeppelin and Rush, and Greta has it down. More bands are popping up with similar classic rock spins, such as Minneapolis natives Early Eyes who’ve admittedly taken notes from Steely Dan, though none carry a more electrifying, hair-whipping aura than van Fleet. Nonetheless, I believe the sounds of the 70s and 80s are making a comeback. Greta van Fleet is hopefully just the beginning, and more.