Music review: Greta Van Fleet revives ’70s rock at MVP Arena

Greta Van Fleet

Greta Van Fleet

ALBANY The young members of Greta Van Fleet, a band of rising stars in the hard rock and metal world, got their first exposure in 2016 when the song “Highway Tune,” the first they wrote and recorded together, played in the background on an episode of the television show “Shameless.”

Greta Van Fleet saved the single, one of the band’s catchiest songs, for last during a two-hour headlining set at MVP Arena on Wednesday night. Played during the encore, “Highway Tune” showcased the band at its best. It is a fun, bold song and a throwback to 1970s guitar rock, with light-hearted lyrics about the fineness of a love interest and a rollicking opening riff that evokes the momentum of a barreling 18-wheeler.

The band’s instrumental virtuosity is undeniable, and Jake Kiszka — a prodigious guitar player who was often the centerpiece of the performance — played a portion of the song with his guitar behind his back as his brother Josh, the vocalist, vamped around the stage in a white glittery jumpsuit (an updated version of the kind popularized by Elvis circa 1973).

The remaining members of the band, all in their early- or mid-20s, are bassist and keyboardist Sam Kiszka (brother of Jake and Josh), and the brothers’ longtime friend Danny Wagner on drums. They all hail from the tiny Michigan hamlet of Frankenmuth, and the band’s bio claims they were raised on their parents’ record collections.

You could make an easy guess that their parents listened to lots of ’70s classic rock heavies like Queen, Led Zeppelin and Rush.

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And possibly Jethro Tull, which played over the sound system right before Greta Van Fleet took the stage. A black curtain, covered with Rune-like cultish symbols, concealed the stage on all sides and then dropped, revealing the band, which had already started playing the opening notes of “Built by Nations.” The band was greeted by a highly enthusiastic crowd that filled much of the general admission floor, even if chunks of seats in the arena’s upper decks were empty.

“Black Smoke Rising” had a prog-rock like feel with an eye toward a dystopian future. “Safari Song,” a blues rocker that appeared in the movie “Aquaman,” opened with a Led Zeppelin-like wail and jungle-style drums from Wagner, who closed the song with an athletic drum solo. “Heat Above,” which sounded a great deal like Rush, espoused the band’s New Agey message about collective love.

Josh Kiszka, sporting a thin ’70s moustache, started the evening wearing a gauzy, flowing cloak. The singer was barefoot and aspired to a theatrical style akin to Elton John or Queen’s Freddie Mercury, but that often just meant waving his arms in the air. Sustained high vocals were his thing. At times that worked, while at other times, his voice at the highest register sounded too much like a screechy squawk. He’d need more subtlety— and melody — to approach the genius of, say, Robert Plant.

Was Greta Van Fleet too derivative? Yes. But the band has plenty of years to work on that.

Before Greta Van Fleet’s set, the audience was treated to two enjoyable opening acts. Blind bluesman Robert Finley was accompanied by a five-piece band including his daughter, who backed him on vocals and helped him off the stage. The 68-year-old Louisiana soul singer, who became better known after recording two albums with Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach, was a refreshing treat to find opening an arena show.

The second opening band, Houndmouth, was a four-piece pop-punk band from Indiana with catchy heartland tunes like “McKenzie” that told charming, Midwestern tales. The band had passion, clever lyrics and top-notch songwriting, as demonstrated on tunes like “Sedona.”

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