Greta Van Fleet Continues To Rock Like Early Zeppelin On Sophomore Album

Michigan rockers deliver more hard-edged ’70s style rock

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When I told a colleague yesterday I was going to see Led Zeppelin tribute band Get The Led Out last night (see previous post), he asked me whether I had ever heard of Greta Van Fleet. The name somehow sounded familiar, and just a little while ago, I finally remembered – I had first read about these Michigan rockers in a previous post from fellow blogger Music Enthusiast.  On November 10, the band released their second studio album From The Fires – close enough to put it into the “new music” category.

The record actually is a double EP, combining the four tracks from Greta Van Fleet’s debut EP Black Smoke Rising with four newly recorded tunes. I have to say I really dig their music, which almost sounds like a reincarnation of early Zep. Exactly because of that, I could see some people might dismiss them.

Greta Van Fleet

I also recall previously reading that Lenny Kravitz in his early years was accused of sounding too retro, too ’60s, too much like Jimi Hendrix; or that blues rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd essentially was a Stevie Ray Vaughan knockoff. The reality is great musicians listen to other great musicians, and in certain genres this inevitably leads to some repetition. Plus, last time I checked, Hendrix, Vaughan and Zeppelin recorded some of the best rock in music history, so I don’t mind if others embrace their sound. With that being out of the way, let’s take a look at From The Fires.

The record’s opener Safari Song is one of the four tracks from the first EP. Credited to all four members of the band – brothers Joshua Kiszka (lead vocals), Samuel Kiszka (bass guitar, keyboards) and Jacob Kiszka (guitar) and drummer Daniel Wagner – this rocker sounds like a tune that could have been included on Led Zeppelin IV. Here’s a cool clip of a live performance, which was captured in June at a music venue in Chicago. While at first sight these guys may look like a high school band, they certainly don’t sound like one!

Next up: Edge Of Darkness, one of the newly recorded tunes.

The album includes two covers: Meet On The Ledge, the second single from Fairport Convention, released in December 1968 and written by Richard Thompson; and the great Sam Cooke tune A Change Is Gonna Come, from his 1964 studio album Ain’t That Good News. I find this rock version intriguing, so here’s a clip.

The last track I’d like to call out is Talk On The Street, another new song.

According to their Facebook page, Greta Van Fleet was formed in 2012 in Frakenmuth, Michigan, just outside of Detroit, where 20 year-old twin brothers Josh and Jake Kiszka began playing shows with their 17 year-old younger brother, Sam, and 17 year-old family friend Danny Wagner. Their name is derived from a local resident called Gretna Van Fleet and used with her permission. Apparently, one of band’s members had heard it mentioned by a relative.

Wikipedia notes various remarkable accomplishments of the young band, especially in the past couple of years. In January 2016, their song Highway Tune was featured on an episode of Showtime comedy series Shameless. This April 21, Greta Van Fleet was named Apple’s new music artist of the week, and in October they won Best New Artist at the Loudwire Music Awards. The new album currently tops the Billboard Hard Rock Albums chart. Based on all the band’s success, it doesn’t appear their retro Zeppelinesque sound is hurting them, which is great to see. I certainly look forward to hearing more from these guys.

Sources: Wikipedia, Greta Van Fleet Facebook page, Billboard, YouTube

Clips & Pix: AC/DC/Back In Black

The above clip of Back In Black is from a show AC/DC performed on December 4, 2009 at River Plate Stadium in Buenos Aires, Argentina during their Black Ice World Tour. Yesterday, Malcolm Young, the band’s original rhythm guitarist who played a key role in writing the riff to this and many other AC/DC classics, passed away at the age of 64. He had fought an extended battle with dementia, which had forced his official retirement from the band in September 2014.

Malcolm Young

Malcolm co-founded AC/DC together with his younger brother Angus Young in November 1973. While he always gladly left the limelight to Angus and singer Bon Scott and later Brian Johnson, Malcolm had a major influence on AC/DC’s songwriting and sound. He is co-credited on pretty much all of their tunes together with Angus, Scott and later Johnson. An official statement on the AC/DC website highlights his “enormous dedication and commitment,” calling him “the driving force behind the band.”

Back In Black was the title track to AC/DC’s seventh studio album, which appeared in July 1980. Not only did the record bring unprecedented success to the band, but with an estimated 50 million copies sold worldwide, it became the second-highest selling album in music history behind Michael Jackson’s Thriller.

Sources: Wikipedia, AC/DC website, YouTube

Clips & Pix: Scorpions/Rock You Like a Hurricane

Do these look like guys who are ready to retire? Sure, lead singer Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker are 69 (the remaining members of the Scorpions are a good deal younger, ranging from bassist Pawel Mąciwoda [50] to guitarist Matthias Jabs [61]). Still, I didn’t quite believe it when the band announced retirement plans a few years ago. And while rock & roll undoubtedly doesn’t get any easier with increasing age, it seems to me this band continues to have lots of gas left in the tank.

Rock You Like a Hurricane, one of my favorite Scorpions tunes, is from their ninth studio album Love At First Sting, which was released in March 1984. While much of heavy metal is not my cup of tea, the Scorpions have demonstrated time and again that combining heavy rock with catchy melodies can make for terrific music. Of course, the band is just as much known for their softer ballads, but when they rock they truly do.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

Blues, Shock and Rock Rumble New Jersey

Edgar Winter Band, Alice Cooper and Deep Purple blew off roof at PNC Bank Arts Center

What do you get when you have blues rocker Edgar Winter, Mr. Shock Rock Alice Cooper and hard rock pioneers Deep Purple on one ticket? Three-and-a-half hours of furious rock and possibly some hearing loss!

I cannot believe it took me more than 30 years after I first listened to Machine Head to see my favorite hard rock band live. Last night, that time finally came when Deep Purple played the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, N.J. Also on the ticket were Alice Cooper and Edgar Winter, who opened the four-hour night including breaks for stage changes.

From the very beginning, the Edgar Winter Band felt like an engine running on maximum rpm the entire time – almost as if Winter, who is the younger brother of electric blues legend Johnny Winter, wanted to bundle the energy of Alice Cooper’s and Deep Purple’s longer performances in a much shorter set. If that was indeed his goal, he succeeded!

Winter’s five-track set included the 1973 Edgar Winter Group hits Free Ride and Frankenstein, as well as covers of Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Tobacco Road and Rock and Roll, Hoochie Koo. He dedicated the last two tunes to his brother. In addition to Winter’s impressive vocal dynamics, he showcased his multi-instrumental skills, playing keyboards, saxophone and percussion. Here’s a clip of Tobacco Road captured during a performance in Atlanta earlier this month.

Next up was Alice Cooper. I only knew four of the sixteen songs he performed, but fortunately, there is setlist.fm. With a discography of 27 studio albums to date, Cooper had plenty of material he could draw from. The set spanned tacks from 1971’s Love It To Death until his last album Paranormal, which was released at the end of July.

Cooper’s gig started off with Brutal Planet, the title song of his 2000 studio album. This was followed by No More Mr. Nice Guy from his best-selling 1973 record Billion Dollar Babies, which hit no. 1 in the U.S. and the U.K. No More Mr. Nice Guy was the most successful of the four singles from the album, climbing to no. 25 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100. Here is a clip from a show in Nashville back in May.

The stand-out musician in Cooper’s band was lead guitarist Nita Strauss. The 30-year-old from Los Angeles is a quite a shredder. According to Wikipedia, one of her ancestors on her father’s side of the family is Johann Strauss II, the famous Austrian composer. Strauss, who became Cooper’s touring lead guitarist in 2014, was ranked no. 1 on Guitar World’s 10 Female Guitarists You Should Know. Here is a clip of a solo Strauss played during the show, which blends into Poison, another big hit for Cooper from his 18th studio album Trash, released in 1989.

Of course, a review of Cooper’s set wouldn’t be complete without the epic School’s Out, the title track from his fifth studio album, which appeared in June 1972. Perhaps not surprisingly, he kept it all the way until the very end as the encore. Here’s a clip from Appleton, WI from June.

And then it was finally time for Deep Purple, the main reason I was at last night’s show. The gig was part of the band’s Long Goodbye Tour, which supports their 20th and latest studio album Infinite. When Deep Purple announced the tour in December 2016, drummer Ian Paice told Heavyworlds, “It’ll be a long tour; it may be the last big tour, we don’t know…We haven’t made any plans, but it becomes obvious that you cannot tour the same way you did when you were 21.” In June 2016, Paice had a mini-stroke, which impacted his right hand and forced the band to cancel some shows in Scandinavia.

Last night, I have to say I thought Paice was in superb shape. There were no signs of any impairment. In fact, I was most impressed with him and keyboarder Don Airy. Singer Ian Gillan, on the other hand, seemed to be a bit subdued. At 72 years, he is the oldest member of the band. Plus, as a vocalist, changes are perhaps more obvious. Unlike a guitar you can tune, the voice is a natural instrument that changes over time. Gillan has been a singer for a whooping 55 years. Even though his voice isn’t quite what it used to be, it was still amazing to see him perform alongside his Machine Head compatriots Paice and bassist Roger Glover. Steve Morse, who at 63 is the youngest member of Deep Purple, is a very fine guitarist.

Deep Purple opened their set with two of their greatest songs, Highway Star and Fireball from Machine Head (1972) and Fireball (1971), respectively. I’ve always loved Highway Star’s organ and guitar solos on the studio version, which were played by the amazing Jon Lord and rock guitar virtuoso Ritchie Blackmore, respectively. Perhaps that version puts the bar impossibly high for a live performance. Here is a clip from a show earlier this month in Woodlands, Texas.

Machine Head was the best represented album in Deep Purple’s set. In addition to Highway Star, they played Lazy, Space Truckin and of course Smoke On The Water – frankly, I wouldn’t have minded if they had included all of the record’s tunes – each of them is great, in my opinion!

Songs from the Infinite album included Time For Bedlam and The Surprising. Deep Purple also played two tracks from 1984’s Perfect Strangers, Knocking At Your Back Door and the title song. I always thought Perfect Strangers, the first record after the band had disbanded in 1976, was a pretty good comeback album. Here is a clip of the title track, which was also captured during the above Woodlands concert.

Another great moment in Deep Purple’s set last night was Hush, which is from their 1968 debut Shades Of Deep Purple. By the way, Paice already was part of the band’s lineup then, making him the only member who has played on all Deep Purple records to date. Written by Joe South, Hush became the band’s first hit single climbing to no. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100. Here’s a clip captured a few days ago during a concert in Mansfield, Mass.

Last but not least there is what is probably the band’s signature song featuring a riff every guitarist learns: Smoke On The Water. It was the final tune of Deep Purple’s set and a great end to a terrific rock night. Here is a clip recorded in May at a show in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again: Summer Concert Season

From rock to roots music to blues to hard rock and shock rock, it’s all in the mix for the next few months

To readers of the blog and folks who know me it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I love going to concerts. I can barely wait until the end of June when my summer concert season kicks off. Following is a preview of shows I’m currently planning to see.

U2: The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, June 29

Even though I’ve listened to U2 since the early ’80s, I’ve never seen them live. They have been on my bucket list for a long time. And what better occasion to catch them than during their 2017 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, their fifth studio album and probably my favorite U2 record. The tour, which includes North America and Europe, kicked off on May 12 in Vancouver, Canada and will conclude in Brussels, Belgium on August 1. “My show” will be the second night at MetLife and the 20th date.

Rolling Stone, which covered the U.S. tour opener in Seattle on May 14, called the show “epic.” The set kicked off with Sunday Bloody Sunday and featured 16 tracks, including all songs from The Joshua Tree, played in the same order than on the album. U2 also played two encores with seven additional songs. For the final Joshua Tree tune, Mothers of the Disappeared, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joined U2, together with Mumford & Sons who had opened the show. Here’s a clip of Where the Streets Have No Name.

John Mellencamp: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies 2017 Summer Tour, The Mann, Philadelphia, PA, July 6

This will be my second time to see John Mellencamp, one of my favorite music artists. Similar to U2, I’ve listened to him since the early ’80s. I like both the early, more rock-oriented Mellencamp with songs like Hurts So Good, Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A., as well as his roots-oriented, more stripped down approach he has increasingly adopted over the past 20 years. I think his current album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies with Carlene Carter is an absolute gem. I previously reviewed it here.

The summer tour, which features Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, includes 22 shows. It is set to kick off on Monday, June 5 in Denver, Colo. and will finish in Forest Hills, N.Y. on July 11. The concert at the Mann in Philly will be the 18th date. As reported by Variety, the upcoming tour will include outdoor gigs, the first time in 15 years Mellencamp has played such venues.  Here’s a clip of Indigo Sunset, one of the best songs from the new album. I think Carter’s beautiful country voice and Mellencamp’s raspy singing make for a great mix.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’: F.M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 10

I’m particularly excited about this show, which will be the first time I see any of these legendary blues artists. Taj Mahal’s and Keb’ Mo’s recently released collaboration album TajMo, which I previously reviewed here, has become one of my most frequently played records. The joy these two guys had when recording the album is obvious and something I find very engaging.

Things got underway in Fort Collins, Colo. on May 30. The concert in Wilkes-Barre will be the 11th of 39 shows of the tour, which will conclude in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla on October 28. Here’s a clip of All Around the World.

Deep Purple and Alice Cooper: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J., August 28

While there are several hard rock bands I like, if I would have to choose only one, it would be Deep Purple. And if I would need to select only one of their albums, undoubtedly, it would be Machine Head, which to me is the definitive ’70s hard rock album. It was also one of my first vinyl records I bought in the late ’70s – I still own it!

While I’ve enjoyed listening to Deep Purple for more than 30 years, this will be the first time I’m going to see them live, as will be the case with Alice Cooper. But unlike Deep Purple, I don’t know Mr. Shock Rock’s music, except for the epic School’s Out and No More Mr. Nice Guy. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the co-lining tour includes 19 gigs in North America, starting in Las Vegas on August 12 and concluding on September 10 in Cincinnati. PNC Bank Arts Center will be 11th show. The tour is part of Deep Purple’s Long Goodbye Tour – sounds like it’s about time to see them!

Of course, I realize Machine Head was released 45 years ago. It’s still hard for me to picture Deep Purple without Ritchie Blackmore and especially Jon Lord, and Ian Gillan’s voice has probably seen better days. But Steve Morse and Don Airey are top-notch musicians, and the band’s new album inFinite, which I reviewed here, shows Deep Purple still has some gas in the tank. Here’s a clip of Highway Star from a recent concert in Munich, Germany.

I’ll probably need hearing aids after the show!

Sources: Wikipedia, U2 web site, Rolling Stone, YouTube, John Mellencamp web site, Ultimate Classic Rock

Deep Purple Still in Rock

With their latest studio album Deep Purple proves they still mean business.

It ain’t Machine Head, but let’s be reasonable here: Comparing Deep Purple’s just released 20th studio album inFinite to what may well be the greatest classic hard rock albums of all time is also a bit unfair.

The fact that at this stage in their long career Deep Purple invested the substantial amount of effort to record new music is laudable in and of itself. Based on posts I’ve seen on the band’s Facebook page, it sounds like inFinite took quite some time to make. Because of the extraordinary commitment it takes to record a new album, other music artists who also became big during Deep Purple’s most successful period essentially no longer bother – so kudos to Deep Purple!

In the era of music streaming and digital downloads, the band is unlikely to make much money from the album’s sales. Sure, you could say it should primarily be about the music and giving something new to their loyal fans. Plus, they’ll be embarking on an extended world tour in May and no doubt will earn cash. And, yes, with reported album sales of more than $100 million, it’s safe to assume these guys don’t exactly live in poverty. Still, wouldn’t you want to get rewarded for work you put so much time and effort into?

Deep Purple inFinite 2

As I started listening to inFinite, my first thought was the music still has one the key ingredients I’ve always loved about Deep Purple: Giving equal roles to distorted guitar licks and the seductive sound of a Hammond organ – almost nothing else gives me more goose bumps in music than a growling Hammond!

There is also a refreshing amount of energy in many of the tunes. Let’s not forget most of the band is in their late 60s and early 70s, except for guitarist Steve Morse who at age 62 is almost a bit of a baby – okay, let me rephrase, a teenager! In one of the clips on their Facebook page, singer Ian Gillan said, “I used to be an angry young man, and now I’m fucking furious again!” Yep, I’d say this definitely comes through in some of the songs.

The album kicks off vigorously with Time for Bedlam, after a spoken intro that lasts about 30 seconds. It’s a great example of what I said above – giving equal weight to electric guitars and a roaring Hammond can make for a terrific combination. While there is probably nobody like Jon Lord, I have to say keyboarder Don Airy really shines in the song’s instrumental part and also does a great job on the album’s other tunes.

Hip Boots, the album’s second song, also reminds me a bit of the Mark II era. The band’s classic line-up from late 1969 – 1973 recorded the two albums I still think are their best: Deep Purple in Rock and Machine Head.

Deep Purple Mark II

Other songs on inFinite I’d like to call out as nicely rocking along include One Night in Vegas and On Top of the World. And there is the cover of Roadhouse Blues, The Doors’ classic from 1970. While I find Ian Gillan’s singing a bit subdued here, he does a cool job on the blues harp. Saving this cover are Don Airy’s cool honky tonk piano and the driving groove provided by drummer Ian Paice and bassist Roger Glover – proving once more you can’t have a great band without a great drummer and a great bassist!

Like its predecessor Now What?!inFinite was recorded in Nashville and produced by Bob Ezrin. Hailing from Toronto, Canada, Ezrin has worked with an impressive array of other music artists over a 40-year-plus career, including Lou Reed, Alice Cooper, Pink Floyd and Peter Gabriel, to name some. Something else I find cool is the album’s cover art. It combines a cursive style p and d to form the infinity symbol, making it appear it all was created by an icebreaker – pretty neat!

There is speculation inFinite may be Deep Purple’s final studio album. That’s perhaps not surprising, given the band named its upcoming word tour The Long Goodbye Tour. After all, the physical demands of the rock & roll business and touring in particular become tougher with age. And in June 2016, Paice suffered a so-called mini-stroke. But as this review rightly points out, inFinite and The Long Goodbye Tour seem to be contradictory names. Plus, a few years ago, the Scorpions were also talking retirement – just saying…

Here’s a clip of Time For Bedlam.

Sources: Wikipedia, Deep Purple Facebook page, TeamRock.com, YouTube

 

 

 

What I’ve Been Listening To: Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll (Rainbow)

This 1978 gem is hard rock at its best.

When I listened to Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll for the first time, the tune blew me away immediately – it still does! The title song of Rainbow’s third studio album is a must-have on any hard rock play list. While I’ve had this and some other Rainbow songs as MP3 files for a long time, recently, I purchased the album on vinyl and have played it a number of times since.

Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll is by far my favorite Rainbow album. There is simply no weak tune on this record. Things kick off at full power with the title song, one of the iconic 70’s hard rock tunes. Like most songs on the album, it was co-written by rock guitar maestro Ritchie Blackmore and Ronnie James Dio, one of the most powerful hard rock singers of all time. I read Blackmore apparently once said when he heard Dio singing, “I felt shivers down my spine.”

Following Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll are two excellent mid-tempo rockers, Lady of the Lake and L.A. Connection, before Gates of Babylon closes out side one. The song’s complexity and its orchestral instrumentation remind me a bit of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir.

Similar to side 1, side 2 starts with a pedal-to-the-metal tune, Kill the King. It is one of only two songs with additional writing credits given to Cozy Powell, who played drums and percussion on the album. The second song Powell co-wrote with Blackmore and Dio, The Shed, comes right after Kill the King. Another standout on side 2 is Rainbow Eyes. Coming in at more than seven minutes, it is the record’s longest tune and its only ballad.

Surprisingly, Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll only had moderate commercial success. The album performed best in the UK where it reached no. 7 on the album chart in 1978. That same year, it hit no. 89 on the Billboard 200. I suppose this proves chart placements are not necessarily indicative of how great a record is.

Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll was Dio’s last album with Rainbow. He left in 1979 to join Black Sabbath after Blackmore had decided to take the band in a more commercial direction. Together with Blackmore, Dio had been the only constant member of Rainbow since the band’s beginning in 1975. Powell was recruited for Rainbow’s second studio album, Rising (1976), and lasted until Down to Earth, the 1979 follow-up to Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll. Under Blackmore’s iron leadership, the band’s line-up constantly changed.

Last year, after he had left rock for nearly two decades to focus on renaissance and baroque music, Blackmore performed two shows in Germany and one gig in the UK with a new line-up of the band, Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow. The shows presented a mix of Rainbow and Deep Purple songs. Following the positive reception, Blackmore announced additional gigs for this June in the UK. The new line-up has a strong singer, Ronnie Romero, who sounds a bit like Dio.

Here is a clip of Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll from the 1978 album.

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube