April 14, 2019
On the Van Fleet Bandwagon
I have been having a bit of a laugh at myself lately. Here I am, nearly fifty years old and I am regularly rocking out to a band of four kids in their early twenties. By rocking out I mean downloading their music on Spotify and listening to it when I go for evening or afternoon walks, playing it on the TV through Chrome casting from my phone while I cook supper, hoping I am not bothering the neighbours. While they are not the only music I am listening to these days, I am fascinated with my fascination with this new band. I've been watching interviews online with them, reading reviews about them, both the favourable and the unfavourable, which I probably should do less of since other people's negative opinions about things usually worm their way into my heart and threaten to taint my opinion of something I was previously enjoying without reservation. The band in question rarely reads the press about themselves. They say doing so will affect their artistic process, so they purposely avoid reading the widely varying opinions about their music. I applaud that approach, especially for this young band which is attracting a huge fan base from all over the world, and have been touted as both 'the saviours of rock' and 'derivative and boring'. In just two years Greta Van Fleet has gone from playing for bikers in the bars and basement venues of their small hometown of Frankenmuth, Michigan to arenas and sold out shows at festivals like Coachella and Lolapalooza. They have two EP's, one album, and a Grammy under their belt.
I have read that a lot of people my age are into Greta Van Fleet because they write the kind of pure, guitar-driven progressive rock and roll songs we grew up on. The comparisons of front man Josh to Robert Plant and their music to Led Zeppelin are everywhere and obvious when one listens to their hit songs 'Highway Tune' and 'Safari Song'. They draw upon their upbringing (Three of the band mates are brothers: Josh and Jake are twins, and Sam is the little brother they had to drag away from his homework after school to play bass for them. The drummer is a family friend, Dan.) in a musical and intellectual household for inspiration, and cite blues, jazz and world music as influences. Oddly enough, I was not a big Zeppelin fan. Their heyday was a bit before my time, and, thanks to my brother and his massive record collection, I really only tuned in to Robert Plant's voice during his Honeydrippers project. Along with most kids in my junior high school I was listening to a lot of Van Halen, Judas Priest, and The Scorpions in Grade 8, but quickly moved on to more alternative types of music along with the ever-present catchy New Wave of video-promoted pop music of the 80's, so I am wondering what it is about Greta Van Fleet that I find so attractive now.
If I were to critique them I would say I don't think Josh, the lead singer, does everything right. He has some weird vocal techniques honed in the days when the band used to practice in a barn on their family's property and he had to find a way to be heard above the amplifiers, but I don't really care because there is no denying this kid's huge talent. I know he will grow and evolve like every artist before him. I think what I appreciate about these guys is their energy, their youthful purity of intention, and their sheer willingness, in the words of The Magic School Bus' teacher Ms Frizzle, to 'take chances, make mistakes, and get messy' together in order to serve the music they feel compelled to offer the world. Their music feels honest to me, and although their lyrics aren't particularly deep, they reflect their age and experiences thus far. They aren't trying to be something they're not. They're just doing what they think is right and they carry the idealistic notion that a rock band can promote Peace and Love through their music. I don't expect anyone else I know to like them or appreciate what they are trying to do. Music hits us all in such different ways. I simply wish to give them a shout out for giving some of us older music-loving folks hope for the future.
In closing I will share a little conversation I had with my seventeen year old daughter, also, like two of her three siblings, a performer who happens to share many of the character traits I appreciate about the band:
Me: I just watched this interview with Greta Van Fleet. I just loved their answers to the questions asked of them. They are so young, but so smart. I hope they can stay the course.
Daughter: You should go see them live and meet them.
Me: Yeah, and then I will put them in my pocket, take them home and feed them supper.
Daughter: You want to be their mom.
Me: No, they have a mom already and she wouldn't like that. I will settle for a kind of adopted aunt role.
Hey, Josh, Jake, Sam and Dan, the invitation stands.
Highway Tune, live in Toronto