It’s not often I’m out until 2 AM on a Monday night, but this was no ordinary Monday night.
Local favorite and rising indie rock queen Lauren Ruth Ward was celebrating her 30th birthday in style. Nearly every time I go and see a local band in LA, I see Lauren in the crowd. She’s as supportive of other LA musicians as anyone in the scene. So it’s no surprise that for her birthday, she brought more than a dozen of the best and brightest Los Angeles has to offer to Harvard & Stone for a free show — and even cooler, it was all covers of Led Zeppelin.
I got to see someone mash up the instrumentals of the Nine Inch Nails classic “Closer” with Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love”. Local trio Luci delivered an enchanting folk cover of “Stairway to Heaven” with some amazing harmonies. Veronica Bianqui and Blank Tapes tackled “Tangerine”. Ward and members of The Soft White Sixties closed the night right before 2 AM with “Kashmir”. The musicians I spoke to told me they had limited rehearsal time, but you couldn’t tell by how awesome the performances were. There was also amazing visuals provided by the folks of Liquid Courage Light Show.
But throughout the night, I decided it would be interesting to talk to some of the performers — as well as some people in the crowd — about their thoughts on Greta Van Fleet. For those unaware, the Michigan-based band has been accused of pillaging Led Zeppelin in order to become the latest “it band”. Pitchfork delivered a scorched earth takedown in giving them a 1.6 out of 10 on their debut album Anthem of the Peaceful Army.
I decided to not attach any names to the quotes when asking about Greta Van Fleet. Everyone I spoke to was familiar enough with their music to give their honest take. Here’s what some of them had to say:
“I have listened to them and I think they’re really talented but it’s hard to get excited about them when there’s nothing fresh or new about their sound. It’s just very derivative. That word has been used about them a million times but it feels like they picked something to copy and they copied it exactly and that thing happens to be one of the best things to ever happen to music. But we’re listening to a straight knock-off.”
“I have a little bit of sympathy for them. They’re still a pretty new band and they came out of the gates sounding like what they sound like and it got them a lot of publicity. Once a major label sunk their teeth into them, they were never going to let them be anything different than what they are.”
They play mandolin on exactly the same amount of songs. Every song starts with “mama”. We all know what it is, and you can take it or leave it. I saw them live but I was on too much acid to be a discerning viewer. They would not have a job if Zeppelin was still touring.
When they say they weren’t influenced by Led Zeppelin, that’s inauthentic. If they would just own up to it and said they loved it, it would be different. I think they would get less hate but I don’t think they would get more love. When you hear their songs, it’s obvious what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter what they say, you decide whether you like it or not.
“I’ve heard their sound and I’ve read a lot of press. And I’ve read the comments on press. I think they’re great musicians, they’re super talented. The first White Stripes record, Jack White hella sounded like Plant. He was super young, super high-pitched, super distorted. But the difference between the White Stripes and them is they kind of dressed it up differently. There’s always a place for that and I feel like it happens every 10 years or something. Wolfmother, Jet. I loved that first Wolfmother record. I was in high school and I was super into Led Zeppelin and the closest thing to seeing them was the White Stripes or Wolfmother. It’s one thing to be inspired by a sound but to do the whole ensemble is pretty lame. I think the Pitchfork thing was spot on what they said about it being super corporate. What other rock bands have broken through that to that level?”
I always thought they were very talented. I thought the Pitchfork article was everything I was thinking except for the part where they said they were bad musicians. I think they’re very good musicians. But I think they should be in Vegas or Broadway. They should be on America’s Got Talent or something. But it doesn’t really matter what I think because the proof is in the pudding. They are sold out all over the country and people love them. Maybe I should wonder what they’re doing right instead of what’s so bad about them. They’re just getting bigger and bigger. The people who like them like them. It’s like being Democrat or Republican. The people that like them won’t believe the Pitchfork thing. The people who don’t like them will love reading that. The real question is why they’re so successful. I didn’t think about the Spotify thing either until I read it. They get put into all the rock playlists. We all talked about it. Everyone’s talking about them. It’s an interesting case study.
My personal thoughts on Greta Van Fleet. I enjoyed seeing them at Cal Jam earlier this year. They are one of few rock bands coming up with a stadium-level sound. But yes, that sound is very derivative of Led Zeppelin. But since Zeppelin is never going to tour again, this is the closest sort of thing I’ll get to seeing something like that. The lead singer’s voice is incredible, and I don’t fault him for singing like that. There are about a million Morrissey rip-offs fronting electropop bands — but that’s way easier to imitate so it doesn’t stand out as much.
But my problem with the band is moreso the outfits and demeanor of them. They’re wearing these outfits that just don’t seem authentic to them and are exactly the kind of thing that bands like Zeppelin would’ve worn. At Harvard & Stone on Monday night, I saw a good number of people in vintage looking clothing. The difference was, theirs was actually worn in and didn’t look brand new off the rack. Also, why does the lead singer of GVF speak with a British-sounding accent when they’re from Michigan, and why does he do that thing with his hand which is a total Robert Plant thing?
Greta Van Fleet are still kids. They’ve got time to change and adapt their sound to not be an exact replica. Will they? It’s hard to expect them to care when they’re selling out massive venues across the world.