“Rock & roll isn’t really going on right now and it’s something the people need.” — Josh Kiszka, Greta Van Fleet, quoted in Rolling Stone.
If Frankenmuth, Michigan is known at all, it’s usually as a tourist spot that channels a kitschy “Little Bavaria” vibe — complete with chicken dinners, a Christmas superstore that my wife described as “obscene” after a visit, and its local polka band heroes. (To be fair, it began as a mission colony, founded by Bavarians who crossed the Atlantic to minister to Michigan’s Chippewas. These “Franconians” became key players in the founding of my spiritual home, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod — but I digress.)
This year, a different kind of band from Frankenmuth is on a new mission; the incredibly young quartet Greta Van Fleet (named for a octogenarian hammer dulcimer player) aims to stoke the “rock & roll revolution” Bono predicted in his recent Rolling Stone interview. Their weapon of choice: a heavy, howling sound that reconnects to the energy of Chicago blues, early pre-mellow Bob Seger and the British hard rock boom — especially to Led Zeppelin.
Be warned: there’s a whole lotta Zeppelin influence on this compilation of two EPs — so much so that my longtime buddies from high school were comparing the music to 1970s German Zep-alikes Kingdom Come when we got together recently. And it’s fair to wonder how the band — twin brothers Josh Kiszka on vocals & Jake Kiszka on guitar, baby brother Sam Kiszka on bass and pal Danny Wagner on drums, ranging in age from 18 to 21 — could possibly have been so well marinated in the classic sounds they emulate. (Parents with great record collections and a musical family that jams together on long weekends seem to hold the answer.)
But let’s face it: Robert Plant & Jimmy Page were these kids’ age once, and they did all right for themselves. More than anything, it’s the explosive energy of youth that these boys are bringing to the table, and they surf that energy on From the Fires until it soars. The opening “Safari Song,” the semi-acoustic “Flower Power” and the surprise radio hit “Highway Tune” work as brazen, thoroughly convincing new-Zep; the strong covers of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” and Fairport Convention’s “Meet on the Ledge” showcase their eclectic, well-formed taste, and at a short, sharp 32 minutes, the whole set oozes potential.
Not that there won’t be some growing pains along the way; while Greta Van Fleet has sold out every headline show they’ve played this year, there were credible grumbles about their live sound and management in the wake of their recent Grand Rapids gig. Still — a rock band from the Midwest with nationwide, possibly international potential! It’s been a while since that’s happened. On the evidence of From the Fires, I think they have what it takes to go for it, and I wish them the best. But feel free to judge for yourself below. — Rick Krueger