Graded on a Curve:
Greta Van Fleet,
“From the Fires” EP

What’s up with “special new band” Greta Van Fleet? How does shamelessly aping Led Zeppelin’s every last riff and twitch make you the next big thing? They’re a goddamn cover band that can’t quite remember how Zep’s songs actually go, and for this both the music press and the public go batshit? The singer thinks he’s you know who, the guitar thinks he’s you know who, the drummer thinks he’s Bam Bam and is about the same age, and what you’re left with is a band that is filling a generation gap I really can’t believe needs filling.

I mean, is there really anybody out there who hasn’t heard Led Zeppelin? And is there anybody out there who wouldn’t prefer to hear Zep first hand? Apparently there are such people, because Greta Van Fleet are making quite the stir. I just heard them on WXPN, for Christ’s sake. If you really want to make music that sounds exactly like somebody else’s music, at least pick an obscure band. Like the Beatles or somebody.

Formed by a trio of Kiszka brothers and one Danny Wagner in wonderful Frankenmuth, Michigan in 2012, Greta Van Fleet (not to be confused with Greta Van Susteren, who is both smarter and sexier) were catapulted to instant fame with their 2017 EP “Black Smoke Rising.” A double EP (“From the Fires”) followed very shortly thereafter the same year, and the rest is history replayed as teenage minstrel show. To quote my friend Bill Barnett, “Just listened to a couple of their songs–sounds like an Adam Sandler prank.” My pal Kiki Solis was a bit more brutal: “Jesus. I just listened to 30 seconds of it and now I need to snort a valium.”

I suppose you could say, “So what if Josh Kiszka sounds like he suckled at Robert Plant’s golden nipple, and Jake Kiszka might as well be copying his hooks and gargantuan riffs straight out of a Jimmy Page songbook? I mean, big whoop.” And you’d be right, so far as it goes. In a thoughtful piece for UPROXX about the band, cultural critic Steven Hyden concluded that he found them “kind of sweet” because they’re so young and guileless, and I find it hard to argue with him. And yet. Devising the perfect pastiche of one of rock’s most famous bands seems as useless to me as tits on a boar, and I’m not so sure of the guileless part either. As they used to say back in 1849, “There’s gold in them thar hills.” And Greta Van Fleet’s hucksterdom is almost guaranteed to make them very, very rich.

There’s a sort of creativity to Greta Van Fleet’s garish minstrel show–fashioning uncanny imitations of another, better band’s songs is a kind of art, after all, even if mimicry is one of your lesser art forms. And to quote the inimitable Oscar Wilde, “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” If I were Robert Plant or Jimmy Page I would be flattered, that is if I weren’t busy suing for intellectual theft. I would probably be doing the latter.

My pal William Honeycutt observed that Led Zeppelin stole everything they knew from the old bluesmen, so what’s the difference? The difference is large. You do not listen to Led Zeppelin and hear a perfect copy of an old black man sitting on a shotgun shack porch. Those hoary old songs were a launching point, not a destination. Led Zeppelin did unholy things to those songs, and they were never the same. You listen to Greta Van Fleet and you hear an uncanny copy of Led Zeppelin, and they’re not sitting on a shotgun shack porch by any means. Although it should be noted that Greta Van Fleet’s is not a perfect cop, but a slightly more flimsy facsimile, for if there’s one thing that distinguishes Frankenmuth’s finest from Led Zeppelin it’s that they lack the sheer sonic heft of their English elders. They’re lighter on their feet, so you can forget about “No Quarter.” “Dancing Days” is another story altogether.

Which brings us back to the beginning. Does the world really need a Led Zeppelin Lite? One with that classic Led Zeppelin taste but fewer calories? I don’t think it does, but I am obviously in the minority. And who am I to fight City Hall? Their songs are catchy. They make for a pleasant listen. They don’t have an original bone in their corporate body, but if I were to walk into a bar where they were playing I’d probably stick around out of sheer morbid curiosity. Because that’s what they are, a curiosity, like an adorable child flapper from the 1930s doing a pretty good Bessie Smith impression. Today it’s Led Zeppelin. Who’s next? I’ll tell you. The Who’s next!

GRADED ON A CURVE:
C

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  • Mr. Mac

    Does anybody remember Kingdom Come?

    • Michael Little

      I don’t. Another Zep clone I take it? I’ll have to give them a listen!

      • Mr. Mac

        Yes, and they took a lot of flack for it too.

  • ChevyHeston

    I’m not a fan, but if a guitar-based band (original or not) can inspire today’s EDM and hip-hop generation to rock out, I’m all for it.

    • Michael Little

      I suppose. But I hate to think that somebody’s first exposure to rock would be Greta Van Fleet. But who am I to talk? My first exposure to music was Barry Manilow.

  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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