As a person who makes his living by typing out opinions about pop culture and posting them on the internet, I’m accustomed to awkward conversations about my job. To most people, what I do isn’t even a job, but rather an incomprehensible hustle in which I con shadowy corporations thousands of miles from my home into giving me money for nothing. What can I say? Those people are not wrong.
On occasion, however, when it comes up that I am a professional rock critic, someone will want to talk to me about a band. And these conversations, during a particular period of time, always seem to be about the same band. For instance, in the early 2010s, every music conversation I had with “regular,” non-internet-based life forms was about Mumford And Sons. For a few years, my small-talk situations were dominated by those suspenders-wearing wannabe blacksmiths. Did you see them on the Grammys? Did you catch them on SNL? Aren’t they the best?
For the sake of social graces, I had to pretend to be nicer to Mumford And Sons in conversation than I ever was in print. But I didn’t need to consult SoundScan numbers to know that band was huge — the anecdotal evidence was already overwhelming.
Lately, I’ve noticed a new band creeping regularly into my idle chitchat with everyday music fans: Greta Van Fleet. In the past few weeks, in emails and on Twitter and even IRL, people have been asking me about this baby-faced Michigan quartet that sounds like Led Zeppelin. This fall, Greta Van Fleet’s debut single, “Highway Tune,” topped the Mainstream Rock and Active Rock charts for five weeks. And they’re already a hot club attraction, with an upcoming tour launching at the end of the month that’s already mostly sold-out, including multi-night stands at Manhattan’s Bowery Ballroom and Nashville’s Mercy Lounge.
Let me be clear: Greta Van Fleet sounds exactly like Led Zeppelin. Take “Safari Song,” the first track from the new From The Fires, which repackages songs from the Black Smoke Rising EP (which came out just six months ago) with four new songs. Guitarist Jake Kiszka conjures some mystic blooze and quotes “Black Dog” in the solo, singer Josh Kiszka (Jake’s twin brother) unleashes a hysterical viking wail and about a dozen “ooo mama’s,” drummer Danny Wagner throws down the hammer of the gods like he’s about to embark on a 20-minute “Moby Dick,” and bassist Sam Kiszka (the youngest brother), I presume, affects a dignified, John Paul Jones-esque posture in the background. The level of sonic mimicry is uncanny and totally unabashed. If Zeppelin stole their act from Willie Dixon, Greta Van Fleet is determined to steal it right back.
So: Do I like them? Do I think they’ll be huge? Are they charmingly retro (i.e. derivative in a good way) or merely a rip-off (i.e. the bad kind of derivative)?
It’s possible that I keep walking into these conversations because I’m a 40-year-old man who still likes to get the led out. Appealing to members of my demographic appears to be part of Greta Van Fleet’s business plan. A recent story in the Wall Street Journal suggested that Greta Van Fleet could forge a path to world domination by appealing to “classic-rock dads who tune into rock radio shows and attend classic-rock concerts” as well as “younger male fans curious about 1960s and 1970s rock, soul and funk; and young women who, in the past, have helped mainstream rock bands become pop stars.” That’s the plan, anyway, for some surprisingly well-heeled music-industry insiders (including industry executives that have shepherded the careers of Adele, Kendrick Lamar, and Lorde) who are betting on Greta Van Fleet becoming a genuine breakout band.