London, Monday June 11, 2018
The streets of Camden Town on a summer evening are buzzing. The market is closed for the day, and for a brief moment, there’s the feeling of a more local Camden without the shoppers and the tourists, who’ve been replaced by the clubbers and drug dealers, ticket touts and gig-goers.
Once inside the legendary 1500-capacity venue, the crowd appears to be a healthy mix of young, middle-aged and old, all here to check out the new rock sensation known as Greta Van Fleet.
Support band, SHEAFS, from Sheffield, deliver a raw performance, complete with a crowd surfing frontman. I have never heard of them before, but am definitely compelled to find out more after having seen their set. With songs like This Is Not a Protest, Mind Pollution and Shock Machine, it’s fun and it’s in your face and it’s a great warm up for the main attraction of the evening.
Support band, SHEAFS
Kurtas and bare chests
And then it’s the moment we’ve been waiting for. The four members of Greta Van Fleet enter the stage and launch into the insanely catchy Highway Tune, setting the bar high for the rest of the evening. The three Kiszka-brothers (Josh on vocals, Jake on guitar, Sam on bass) and their friend, Danny Wagner on drums, look like four characters who just stepped off the set of Almost Famous. They’ve got that seventies classic rock look down to a tee; long hair, open vests over bare chests, and beads and long flowing hair. No doubt their looks are a contributing factor to their popularity, but there’s no denying these young fellas can play and sing.
Greta Van Fleet at Electric Ballroom
While a kurta-attired Josh performs vocal somersaults, his bare-chest-vest-wearing twin brother Jake exercises finger acrobatics on his guitar fretboard. Especially impressive is a seemingly never-ending guitar solo early on in the show during Edge of Darkness, where about a minute of the solo is played while holding the guitar behind his back. Not only does it look like a complete rock and roll show off in the best possible way, it also sounds pretty damn good. Bass player, Sam, keeps a great groove going throughout, and it’s fun to watch him and Jake, often moving synchronously, on each their side of the singer, both tossing their long hair around, and often glancing sideways, as if to keep each other in check. Drummer Danny pounds hard and keeps the band’s heart beating. This is a tight unit who knows how to ROCK!
Guitarist, Jake Kiszka
Wearing a feather headband around his curly hair, Josh looks out at the audience with a warrior stare, but he’s a friendly warrior who’s never far from breaking out in a huge smile. He doesn’t dance much, and he stands still a lot, but his stillness is very effective, especially when surrounded by two such animated players as his two brothers. Also, if staying still is what it takes to belt those impressive vocals out, it’s all for the better.
Greta Van Fleet only has about a dozen songs in their repertoire, so their concerts are inevitably going to be a bit limited at this early stage of their career. I find my mind wandering, and after the first four songs, my feet start wandering too – away from my spot in front of the stage, simply because I get a little bored. When Greta Van Fleet are good, they’re really good, but in my opinion, they don’t have enough great songs yet, to keep it really exciting for a full gig. For now, too many of their songs just seem to weave in and out of one another, and so, the band only shines in glimpses. But I have no doubt that things can get a lot more exciting with one more record and more song material under their belts.
A gig from two angles
As I wander away from the stage and up on the balcony, it gives me the chance to see the gig from another perspective. The sound is not quite as good up there as it was in front of the stage, which is a shame, especially since it’s such a small venue, Nevertheless, it’s nice to see the band from above for the last part of the gig. It gives a better overview, and it’s only now I notice that the bass player has bare feet. And it’s quite an ending the band pulls off – finishing with Black Smoke Rising and Safari Song, the Fleets (not really their nickname, but maybe it can catch on?) have the audience singing along to every word.
Singer, Josh Kiszka
Perhaps it’s not a coincidence (or maybe it is) that Greta Van Fleet’s two currently strongest songs, Highway Tune and Safari Song bookend the gig, making sure they start and finish especially strong. In a time where many people would rather stay at home and watch Love Island, or stream Drake on Spotify, it’s not only refreshing, but vital, that we have a band like Greta Van Fleet to go see shredding and killing it in a small sweaty venue in the formerly most rocking part of London. They have now become part of the tradition of young rock bands playing small venues in Camden Town. Camden Town is no longer what it was, and the cultural significance of the place has nearly died out, but no one can deny its impressive rock history – and now, Greta Van Fleet has taken the baton. Run with it, Guys!
Great Van Fleet setlist
1. Highway Tune
2. Edge of Darkness
3. When the Cold Wind Blows
4. Talk on the Street
5. Flower Power
6. You’re the One
7. Evil (Howling’ Wolf cover)
8. Mountain of the Son
9. Watching Over
10. Lover Leaver Taker Believer
11. Black Smoke Rising
12. Safari Song