photo by Bob Gersztyn
Rising rock upstarts Greta Van Fleet hit the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Friday night, and their show was notable for a few reasons—not the least of which was the Michigan band's ability to fill one of Portland’s biggest auditoriums before their debut album has even been released. The band drew on their two EPs for the bulk of the set, in addition to playing three songs from their upcoming full-length, and a scorching Howlin’ Wolf cover for good measure.

Greta Van Fleet is already something of a phenomenon, particularly for their ability to sound eerily similar to vintage Led Zeppelin. A lot of it comes down to 22-year-old singer Josh Kiszka, whose vocal timbre is purest, uncut Robert Plant circa “Communication Breakdown," although his vocal range—which shrieks into the stratosphere, and then keeps going up—might be even more impressive. His twin brother, Jake Kiszka, admirably replicates Jimmy Page’s loose-fingered guitar style, and the rhythm section of younger brother/bassist Sam Kiszka and drummer Danny Wagner (both of whom are 19) keep the bottom end up.

photo by Bob Gersztyn

The Zeppelin comparisons are unavoidable: “Flower Power” includes an organ solo from Sam that’s the lovechild of “Your Time Is Gonna Come” and “Thank You,” and their EP also includes a cover of Fairport Convention, one of Zeppelin’s biggest influences (and whose singer Sandy Denny is one of the only guest musicians to ever appear on a Led Zeppelin record). Live, Greta Van Fleet is finding their own voice, and it’s a bit more Michigan meat-and-potatoes rock ’n’ roll—think Flint's Grand Funk Railroad—than the mystical druid blues of the Zoso gang. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine a teenage Cameron Crowe working up any sort of lather over the Van Fleet boys, although there were plenty of youngtons in the crowd ecstatic with getting their brains ripped apart by the deafening riffs. (There were also a LOT of older rocker types in the crowd, too—the type who haven’t bought a new record since 1999 that didn’t have Jack White’s name on the cover.)

Fortunately, Greta Van Fleet were more than capable of rising to the level of their adulation. The band, as young as they are, already have showmanship in spades, emblemized by their outlandish stage garb. This is a group where not one but TWO members wore gold lame pants, and singer Josh rounded out his ensemble with a tiny gold top and feathers dangling from his ears. Guitarist Jake wore a Hendrix-style military jacket and wandered up to the lip of the stage for the lengthy guitar solos that peppered every song. (And was there a drum solo, you ask? You're damn right there was a drum solo.)

Greta’s songs are fairly simple, unexceptional things—uncomplicated major-chord rock jams that get stretched out in the live setting to seven, eight, ten, or more minutes. This is, I'd say, the young group's weakest quality, in that most of the songwriting, with some exceptions, doesn’t stand up to the weight of their overblown delivery. Every lick was protracted for maximum impact, and every ending sounded like a plane crash in slow motion. With only a couple of really solid songs in their repertoire (the new single “When the Curtain Falls” and set opener “Highway Tune” being among those), the band settled into a groove of full-blare chooglin’, as opposed to—sorry for another Led Zeppelin comparison—the Heart of Darkness style journey into the dark half of the tarot deck that you’d find, say, on side two of The Song Remains the Same.

It didn’t bother the crowd any. Greta received a rapturous response, and there’s every indication they’ll keep rising. Their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Evil” was incontrovertible proof that these guys are capable of excellent, tight rock ’n’ roll, even if their artistic mission isn’t one of turning over new stones, but of decorating the ones that’ve already been discovered with faux-hippie graffiti. The much poppier Kings of Leon feel like an apt comparison, not least because of GVF’s brotherly element, but also because their level of success seems like where Greta Van Fleet is destined. What they’ll do when they get there remains to be seen—it’ll either be “Use Somebody” or “Kashmir.” Let’s hope for the latter.