To judge one’s taste in music is not something I am wont to do. The music that touches one’s soul is an individual experience. As for me, I was awakened to rock music in my teens when I fell in love with The Beatles long after they had disbanded. My love has been expanding ever since, even though it waxes and wanes. For years I have discovered a band here and there, but no wave has hit me with a crash of multitudinous talent, as it did in the 90’s with the now-called Grunge scene. And it still hasn’t in this millennium. I don’t want to call this century a rock-musical wasteland – I really don’t. After all, in this century I have discovered A Perfect Circle, Bon Hiver, Nickel Creek, and Lullwater, to name a few. Unfortunately, I find that so much of the talent that currently hits the airwaves is manufactured by executives and technology. It’s not real. Those “musicians” know how to perform, but can they sing? Can they play a musical instrument? Can they write songs? I really don’t care if they can dance. For me, the magic of rock music has always been the perfect combination of beautiful music and enchanting lyrics. Lyrics that say something more than the obvious or mundane. As in, lyrics of writers who are also readers and thinkers is paramount. For example, it’s clear that Rush are very familiar with Ayn Rand. Anyone who has read Anthem will recognize the dystopian theme of “2112.” And that’s the perfect segue to my most recent love affair with rock music – Greta Van Fleet. One of the songs on their LP Anthem of the Peaceful Army is aptly named “Anthem.” Their familiarity with Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World is evidenced in their song “Brave New World.” So, their influences are not limited to other musicians – they have gleaned knowledge from classic literature. Whether they paid attention in English class or are avid readers who made discoveries on their own I do not know. No matter. When I listen to the lyrics of their songs, or read their social media posts, I cannot refute that they are readers and thinkers – and better still, that they apply this sensitivity to their songs.
I put this band on the top of my list of bands to hear live, and when they announced their North American tour this fall, I scooped up two tickets to their show at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado as fast as I could. I was not disappointed with their performance. It’s almost futile to describe sound – after all, these performers played music, and there were no coordinated dance moves – but I will do my best.
Jake Kizska’s voice is like butter for the ears – it glides across the scales in the manner of Geddy Lee or Chris Cornell. He goes into and out of a falsetto yodel like Aaron Neville; starts the scream à Robert Plant right on key then slips effortlessly into the blues baritone of Noah Hunt. And though I make comparisons to vocal greats in rock music, Jake’s voice is uniquely his own. The first time I heard his voice about a year ago, my jaw literally dropped. That experience reminded me of the first time I heard Eddie Vedder’s baritone – there is no other sound like it on earth. I feel the same sort of awe every time I hear Jake’s voice – there is nothing like that sound, even if you can identify his musical influences.
Now let’s talk guitar, or what is called in rock music, lead guitar. That is what sets rock music apart from pop rock, techno, boy bands, rap, or any other kind of popular music. Lead guitar renders rock music king. Jake’s twin brother Josh is Greta Van Fleet’s lead guitarist, and when I say he has revived the shred, this is an understatement. The dearth of guitar solos in my life has ended. I am happy again.
I don’t want to ignore the bassist and drummer – Sam Kizska (yes, another brother – what a talented family!) and Daniel Wagner, respectively. Sam moved effortlessly from bass to keyboards and provided the perfect background vocals to Jake’s voice. As for Daniel – some might say that he stole the show, if you’re into the drums. Not only did he have the stamina to perform for two hours (including a solo), but the music melded into one mellifluous sound because of his beat.
Who are these amazing young men? They are Greta Van Fleet – poets, thinkers, and musicians. May they have a long career that continues to ease the suffering of the world.