I remember as a kid, especially during the disco era that “rock is dead”. It may have actually been written in Rolling Stone, who ironically built their empire thanks to rock. The phrase has become kind of a punchline than serious matter. I even have a t-shirt that reads: “Rock Is Dead – Long Live Paper And Scissors”.
Well, for the past dozen years or more, rock has indeed been on life support with rap overtaking it in the hearts of youth. Popular music is hard to understand this day thanks in part by Clear Channel or whatever they go by today. CC definitely ruined radio. Music has become so segmented and divided into different categories and sub-categories that good old-fashioned rock and roll gets lost in all the sub-genres.
This is ever present in the fact a lot of long term listeners gear towards older artists. This is especially apparent in college radio. Once the springboard for new music and acts, if you look at the charts there are a lot of middle-aged men and women. Even newer bands like The Decemberists lead singer is now in his 40s. What happened to rock and roll being a young man and women’s game?
One of the explanations for this is new music isn’t as good as it used to be. Of course my parents said that as did their parents and on and on going back to the cave dwellers.
Is rock really dead? No it might be on life support unless some new blood enters the fray. And that, making a short story long, is how I ended up at FirstBank Amphitheater Thursday evening.
Greta Van Fleet helped christen the new music venue in Franklin, TN in style that despite our government warning us about a reprisal of Covid and warning us not to gather en mass, saw over 7,000 fans come together to enjoy a true rock and roll revival.
Since coming into the public’s eye about four years ago the band has culled a large fanbase, often rabid at times. The sound was true rock and roll and some, including myself has deemed them saviors of rock and roll.
Thanks to the day and age Greta Van Fleet has had some loud detractors, mainly on social media. Coming out the gates strong with their first song, “Highway Song” the band built a large fanbase. That song was the first of four consecutive number one hits on the rock charts, two off their Black Smoke Rising EP and two off their first full-length, Anthem of the Peaceful Army.
The band was readily compared to Led Zeppelin. The band does wear its influences heavily on their sleeves and lead singer Josh Kiska’s vocals at times do sound a lot like Robert Plant. This is where the detractors came from. Internet trolls and some in the music cliques have tried to dismiss the band as a Zeppelin tribute or that they were trying too hard to sound like them. Tough crowd.
Despite the naysayers Greta Van Fleet is a true rock band. With the release of their newest, The Battle at Garden’s Gate this past spring the band has found their own voice and own sound, a deep maturity for a band of relatively young kids, three of the four are brothers.
This was never more evident than in the christening of FirstBank Amphitheater in Franklin, TN.
Seated inside the belly of a reclaimed limestone rock quarry hole, FirstBank Amphitheater is the perfect setting for an outdoor concert. For over 50 years the Graystone Quarry lay abandoned after it’s resources were used for the completion of Interstate 65. It was used only as a dumping area during that timespan since. In 2014 ambitious efforts began to turn this pit into an amazing event venue and live music amphitheater. The finished results are staggering to say the least.
The brand new music venue located just south of Nashville in Franklin Tennessee gives a whole new meaning to the term “rock concert”. Oozing with vibe and atmosphere, the amphitheater kicked off it’s very first week opening with two nights of Greta Van Fleet’s “Strange Horizons” tour.
Opening acts Cedric Burnside and Shovels & Rope warmed up the crowd for a great evening of music setting the tone for the hard rock experience that followed.
Anticipation was building as the crowd eagerly awaited Greta Van Fleet to take the stage. You could feel the excitement as nighttime set into the amphitheater. Once the band charged into their first song the crowd roared into cheers and screams.
Channeling a mixture of Jon Anderson from Yes and a better version of Geddy Lee of Rush, singer Josh Kiszka belts out the vocals to opening song “Heat Above”, the first track off the new album. “Thanks” to the pandemic this was the first time the song was played live, along with four other songs off the new album. After “Safari Song” drummer Danny Wagner went into an extended drum solo. At times it looked like Josh was fighting for attention in his vocal styling as the actual talent of the band was in full display. Jake Kiszka was most impressive on lead guitar. His intricate fret work was astounding and he could get down and dirty at the drop of a hat with some fuzzy guitar tones or lighten up if the mood required. Often bass can get lost in the mix and often tries to overcompensate, but this was not the case for Sam Kiszka. It was a true symphony of sound between the four bandmates as they performed debut live “Thunderstomp” and “Light My Love”. A smoke and light show added to the ambiance as it was evident that rock and roll is not dead, but actually alive and thriving thanks to these four.
The band finished the night with “When the Curtain Falls”, their third number one single off of 2018’s Anthem of the Peaceful Army.
After an extended break that had the 7,000-plus in attendance to chant “one more song” and turn the flashlights on on the phones (reminiscent of Bic lighters from a by-gone era), the band came out beginning a three song encore. “Age of Man” that showcased Sam’s ability on keyboards. That led to the song that launched them, “Highway Tune” and the band finished on a really note with My Way, Soon”.
The best thing about the night besides the music was the atmosphere. For old-timers it was like a real rock concert back in the glory days. True fans of the bands were there as a majority of those were singing along note for note, during the break between acts there were guys there pumping their fists in excited joy of live music and a band they’ve been dying to see live for the first time since 2019 and some for the first time. They were not disappointed and all three acts delivered as promised.
After a couple of hours out in the heat there was nothing but smiles around the now emptying amphitheater. Any naysayers were left speechless as the new material and even the early work of GVF, it was obvious that the band’s sound was evolving, which was pretty damn good to begin. But now they own their voice and while comparisons will be made (and they always will until the end of time for rock and roll), Greta Van Fleet are indeed a bona fide great rock and roll band and a great way to christen a new music venue.
Greta Van Fleet Setlist
Heat Above (Live debut)
Black Smoke Rising
Caravel (Live debut)
Age of Machine (Live debut, Bouree intro)
Thunderstomp (Middle section only)
Light My Love (Live debut)
Trip the Light Fantastic (Live debut)
The Weight of Dreams
Built by Nations (Live debut)
When the Curtain Falls
Age of Man
My Way, Soon (Live debut)
– Dave Weinthal & Chris Eason