After an earlier cancellation (for the band to attend the Grammys), American blues-rock band Greta Van Fleet successfully sailed into Auckland the second time around and lit up the stage at the Logan Campbell Centre.
The three brothers Josh, Jake and Sam Kiszka, along with drummer Danny Wagner, brought their wall of sound to the stage for this much-anticipated return to the land of the long white cloud. And the punters weren’t left disappointed.
I wasn’t able to see the support band because of the massive queue of eager ticket-holders trying to get into the gig. But the anticipation was apparent in the sea of black that snaked to the entrance of the Logan Campbell Centre. With plenty of Led Zep T-shirt wearers and air guitars strapped to most of the punters' backs, it was clear to see that they knew who played such a significant role in the band’s sound.
Once in the venue and a beer in hand, my mate Tim and I muscled our way into the centre of the packed floor surrounded by one of the most diverse audiences I have seen for some time. It highlighted the Greta Van Fleet sound had a connection to both the past and the present and this was amplified even more by the tracks being played before the main act hit the stage. The wee gem that really took my fancy was My Whole World Ended by David Ruffin: classic soul and a note to myself that he was worthy of further investigation.
Then, as the lights dimmed, a roar from the crowd erupted and the band hit the stage. It was a simple set up, as you would expect for a band like this, with no frills... just a stack of amps, smoke and kit to fill the space, shrouded in an eerie light.
... there was no question that this gig was going to be loud! It was like being hit by a truck and getting stuck in the grill: you just had to go along with the ride.
As the first chords of The Cold Wind (more like a hurricane) blew across the now packed auditorium there was no question that this gig was going to be loud! It was like being hit by a truck and getting stuck in the grill: you just had to go along with the ride.
Quickly followed by Safari Song and Black Smoke Rising, the momentum and stage antics were simply breathtaking. These young lads showed off all their wares and were well supported by the menacing light show. Josh’s vocals were, of course, reminiscent of the great Robert Plant and he didn’t hold anything back right from the get-go.
Same with brother Jake on lead guitar; I swear there were times I saw smoke coming off his fretboard. Many licks I am sure he picked up from one of his idols, being Jimmy Page. I couldn’t stop thinking that he looked like a young Jeff Beck in his late 60s attire, which blended in well with Josh’s 70s jumpsuit.
By the end of the three opening tracks, there was a welcome break, not only for the band but the audience as well. Josh welcomed everyone to the show and gave a nod to the fact that it was better late than never given they had to cancel their gig here earlier this year to pick up a Grammy for Best Rock Album (for double EP From The Fires).
Then things took off again with Flower Power, off the award-winning EP. A nice acoustic number that starts off slow and builds, with some impressive keyboards and lead guitar. A great ditty and well received by the audience.
Alas, from here the impact of the sound quality really started to take its toll, with so much bass it washed out the sound and the heart of the band. Greta Van Fleet are top quality performers and there is no doubting their star ability but, as the night went on, it just got a little harder to bear.
Of course, looking around the floor, the devoted were in their happy place and rightly so, especially if you love a good lead break. To be honest, there were more lead breaks in this gig than a main road in Old Delhi. The skill was incredible to watch and any axe grinder worth his salt would have been on a stairway to heaven.
That aside, when they closed the set it was apparent the band had left everything they could have on stage and the reaction of the crowd said it all. Roars for more and the obligatory encore finished off, quite nicely, a gig that had started with much promise and, in many ways, delivered in spades. It was just a shame the sound didn’t quite keep up with the band.
Notwithstanding that, Greta Van Fleet are quality and a band that I would love to see again, but in a venue that suits their sound like the old St James, for example, where their true grandeur could be fully realised.