By Chyrisse Tabone, Rock At Night Tampa
Live Review: Greta Van Fleet with Robert Finley and Houndmouth – Amalie Arena, Tampa, FL – March 10, 2023
In 2017 when Rock At Night heard “Highway Tune” by Greta Van Fleet, we were totally blown away. I immediately felt pride since the band is comprised of young guys from the small town of Frankenmuth, Michigan (I spent my youth in Westland) and had totally captured the essence of classic rock. The “new” classic rock sound emerging in the last decade was officially here to stay. After this breakthrough hit, they were deemed “the new Led Zeppelin,” a label that is an honor but later deemed a burden since comparisons often raise controversies.
From this point on, Rock At Night began seeking out coverage of the band. We reviewed their gig in a small, dark bar in Raleigh, North Carolina in the Summer of 2017 and later, in other US cities and abroad. Due to the magazine’s longtime coverage, I was excited to see they were coming to Tampa, Florida in October 2022 so I would finally have the chance to see and photograph the band. Unfortunately, when October rolled around, lead singer Josh Kiszka canceled the concert due to a ruptured eardrum. However, he promised to reschedule—and fulfilled that promise on Friday, March 10th.
Rock At Night arrived at the Amalie Arena on a hot and rainy evening, darting between long queues of people waiting to get inside the arena. The first observation was the significant presence of girls. Most rock concerts favor a male-dominated audience, but last night, girls ruled.
Photographers usually wait between the stage and the barricade (the “photo pit”) before the bands emerge on stage. We typically get to photograph the first three songs before receiving the boot from security. While waiting for the first support act to perform, I briefly chatted with girls holding signs. One sign illustrated a drawing of Josh holding a tambourine, saying, “Hey, Josh! My B-Day is this week. All I want is a ‘tam’ boy.” The hardcore fans were on Spring break from Missouri—and as I found out, slews of the crowd were on student break. Even Rock At Night’s Nashville journalist Gabrielle Sanchez, who follows the band nationwide, was in town.
The first support act was Louisiana blues artist Robert Finley and his band. As he sauntered on stage wearing a leather-brimmed hat and shades, a roar of “girl screams” permeated the air. The back story is that Black Keys’ singer/songwriter Dan Auerbach took Finley under his wings in approximately 2017, producing his albums Age Don’t Mean a Thing and Sharecropper’s Son. He even appeared in America’s Got Talent in 2019 and, most recently, in 2023. As Finley shook his fanny, took his hat off, and bowed, the audience shrieked with approval and adulation. A fan in the audience told me, “He’s so cute!” This mostly 20-something crowd went wild over this 69-year-old bluesman, showing his music has multi-generational appeal.
Next up was the alt-rock band Houndmouth. No stranger to Tampa, they performed at the Gasparilla Music Festival in 2017. Last night they performed the popular hits “Las Vegas” and “Sedona.” Unfortunately, the stage was thick with haze and fog machines, almost pitch dark (like during Finley’s set), making it a photographer’s nightmare. Just sayin’.
Finally, at 9 p.m., I stood at the side of the stage, covered with a black curtain from ceiling to floor. The stage security let us know we could only enter the pit once the curtain dropped and was removed from the area. Sure enough, it fell, and Greta Van Fleet began performing “Built By Nations.” Josh stood draped in a long flowy rope and his infamous jumpsuit, belting out the lyrics, gesturing with his hands and face theatrically. After the band’s SNL stint in 2019, there was a lot of hoopla after the show. Possibly due to admiration or even envy of the band’s success, a TikTok craze arose of people imitating his facial expressions and gestures.
Twin brother Jake manned the guitar, and brother Sam performed on the mighty bass. Longtime friend Danny Wagner peered from behind the stately drum kit located at the rear of the stage. Suddenly, columns of flames shot up from corners of the stage as Josh’s voice soared, showing great skill and vocal control. The performance was polished in true rock star fashion, and the crowd was screaming, with arms reaching out. This must have been what it was like when the Beatles came across the pond.
After seeing the band live and listening to their music, I could truly appreciate the show. Like the prog rock and classic rock bands of the 70s, GVF has captured the imagination of a new generation of kids longing for real music, theatrics, and, shall I say, “cute heartthrobs.” Thinking about the controversy and their comparison to Led Zeppelin, I took it all in to make an opinion. Yes, the songs “Highway Tune” and perhaps “When the Curtain Falls” have vocals reminiscent of Robert Plant and the guitar riffs of Jimmy Page, but GVF is not Led Zepp at all. They are much more. Josh’s vocals are very controlled and nuanced, depending on the song. There are yodels, long-held notes, and melodic screams. If anything, I would compare his voice to Jon Anderson of Yes, Dennis DeYoung of Styx, or Geddy Lee of Rush. Today, who doesn’t sound like somebody in the past? Robert Plant, after all, copped his style from Steve Marriott of Small Faces and Humble Pie. He has even admitted it. The 60s Brit blues bands lifted the style of the old 30s blues bands. At least the band performs natural vocals and instrumentation and does not cut and paste snippets of other people’s intellectual property like hip-hop or EDM music.
The band ended the evening with “Flower Power,” a favorite they seldomly perform live, and their break-out hit “Highway Tune.”
Our journalist Sanchez expresses what many feel, saying, “Greta is the only band that can actually provoke a feeling in me—a feeling that makes me feel like I have to look at the song and see what it means to me. It is almost a triumphant feeling listening to their music.”
Need I say more?
**Look for more Greta Van Fleet coverage in our upcoming May issue of Rock At Night.
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