Review & Photography by Manny Manson for MPM
With the car barely cold from its run out to Kings Heath in Birmingham last evening, I’ve now got it pointed to the North West as I head out to cover the closing night of Greta Van Fleets ‘Dreams in Gold’ UK tour.
On the undercard tonight we have American Southern Blues Rock sensation, Marcus King and his band. This’ll be a warm up for his up and coming headline tour of his new record, ‘Young Blood’ scheduled for release in late August, he’s moved away from the October release dates of his previous three albums.
Greta Van Fleet have enjoyed a whirlwind rise in fame and fortune over recent years, having formed in 2012, the band hailing from that well-known metropolis of Frankenmuth in Michigan. I’m sure there aren’t many in the UK who had ever heard of Frankenmuth before the birth of this great four piece, I for one hadn’t.
There is no denying the obvious vocal and guitar work of brothers Josh and Jake Kiszca and the band, has drawn critical comparisons to Robert Plant and Jimmy Page and the Great Led Zeppelin. Needless to say, if you really tried and looked hard enough there are a lot of bands out there who you could draw similar comparisons with. With that aside there is no denying that the Frankenmuth Four, brothers Josh, Sam and Jake and Danny Wagner on drums, are a force to be recon’d with.
Arriving at the Apollo early is always a good thing as the area to the side of the venue has free parking until about 5:30 on gig nights, after which there is a charge. There is a handy pub, and just across the roundabout there is a handy garage with a Tesco’s Express a great place to get a meal deal while you wait for the doors.
Which I duly did only to get caught in a downpour of biblical proportions whilst inside. Waiting for it to subside I could help but feel sorry for the guy who’d left his window wound down as he shopped, I’m sure when he opened the door, the car must have been ankle deep in water.
Getting my wristband pass just prior to the doors opening, and collecting brother Waldorf’s ticket, tonight is another solo trip with out my good buddy Pete Finn to accompany me, an act that gets me out of a dilemma later, I head for the side bar at the front, stage right to set my kit up and have a chat with a couple of fellow togs, as you do, the talk is generally about poor lighting and trying to out trump each other with recent photoshoots!
10 minutes before 8pm and we’re allowed in the pit. It’s a cracker her at the Apollo, and with just three of us and the tour tog with a TLR on a tripod, we have loads of room, but no doubt will want the same square foot when the action heats up.
Marcus King and his band are first up tonight. I have to say, even though he has toured and played quite close to me back home, tonight is the first time I’ve seen him play live. With a 40minute set, he wastes no time in getting things started. Strapping a Gibson Firebird, complete with banjo tuning pegs he’s straight into the opening number, a dirty blues rock number that sees him singing at the microphone and then moving away as he cuts loose. Adorned in his trademark cowboy hat he makes the firebird work for its money, wringing the life out of it as we get underway.
The crowd in tonight seem to know his work, as they are already dancing and cheering along. With great slide work from Drew Smithers over on stage left, wick is turned up as he plays along, the horn section of Johnson and Spies somewhat hidden in the shadows complement the proceedings as Farnsworth on the Hammond fills in the blanks as King has the crowd clapping along.
This is a high velocity set and the young crowd in tonight are digging it. Making our way into our holding area, King announces to the crowd but its lost as his level’s seem a tad on the low side, especially with Smithers and Farnsworth smashing out great riffs either side of Jack Ryan in his holiday shirt thumping the tubs with all his might. It sounds like Percy Sledges, ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ is getting a great reception.
Having seen that it’s not on the set list, along with ‘It’s too Late’ which I’m assured got played but totally missed my ears, I slip into the crowd and catch the tail end of 2020’s ‘The Well’ before he carry’s straight on into Black Sabbath’s ‘War Pigs’, the undeniable riffage has the crowd singing along, to the point that you can’t hear Marcus on stage.
There are 3400 in tonight and a mighty amount are flexing their vocal cords to this truly awesome anthem, sadly it’s only the first verse, as after a very quick flexing of a few strings and thundering round on the drums the song, and the set are drawn to a close. A stunning opener in anyone’s book
Marcus King Band : Marcus King – Lead Guitar/Vox, Drew Smithers – Guitar/Slide Guitar, Stephen Campbell – Bass Guitar, Jack Ryan – Drums, Dane Farnsworth – Keyboards, Justin Johnson – Trombone, Chris Spies – Saxophone/Conga Drums.
Set List: 1. Pain, 2. Virginia/Hard to Cry, 3. Hard Working Man, 4. Beautiful Stranger, 5. Lie Lie Lie, 6. Wildflowers & Wine, 7. The Well, 8. War Pigs.
In the mix I have been told It’s ‘Too Late’ and Percy Sledge’s ‘When A Man Loves A Woman’ were also played, the former I can’t confirm.
During the swift 20minute set change over there’s barely time to buy a drink as the queues for the bar snake around the arena, couples actually being served are dropping shots while they wait for their long drinks to be poured.
Again with 10 minutes to go we make our way pit side once again. The security in the pit are great and we get the chance to view a copy of the main acts setlist, very handy for doing this review. The Pit Boss then comes over and asks who has and hasn’t got a ticket for the night.
My two colleagues don’t and are informed that when the first three is over they will be escorted from the building, fortunately I have Walldorf’s ticket so I’m told I will have to deposit my camera gear in the cloakroom, at no charge, then I can take my seat. Wow, I’ve never had that happen to me before so it’s a good job I collected the ticket.
As the anticipation grows in the crowd, we sort ourselves out in the pit, my phone rings and I quickly answer it on my watch, very James Bond, I tell my Wife that the band are just about to come on and I’ll call her back asap, I couldn’t hear her for the loud music anyways. Just in time, as, slightly later than scheduled, the house lights dim and a preamble starts as way of an introduction, the band walk on stage and the crowd go nutz, ‘Stardust Chords’ pipes up and the strobing of the lights start.
This is a change to last night’s opener of ‘Built by Nations’. With the usual pause for effect, Josh, eventually, appears on stage in a dramatic flood of bright light, getting front and centre he acknowledges the crowd as the lights flash and pulse around him, his arm is outstretched, holding the mic to the crowd, as he soaks up the atmosphere. Tonight, he is dressed in a gold, flamboyant one piece with a sheer over jacket he certainly looks the scene from Walt Disney’s remake of Aladdin.
As he starts to sing the lights quickly turn to red and stay that way as this song from ‘The Battle at Garden’s Gate’ plays out. Screaming girls drowning out the vocal at times. Jakes on it, looking like a young Jimmy Page as he continuously rocks as he plays, his outfit emblazoned with symbols down the leg seam somewhat akin to those used by Led Zeppelin, you can certainly see why there are the comparisons.
‘Safari Song’ follows on after a righteous end to the opener. The lights strobe orange and blue as Josh lets loose, a way to easy ‘Plant’ style scream that is awesome in itself. This faster bouncing tune from ‘From the Fires’ has the crowd singing the chorus. Jake, on guitar, gets himself at the front as he rocks out on his SG, a spot lit, Josh takes over once again as the crowd sing the vocal with little encouragement. The guitar is crunching in its delivery, as it gives way to a drum solo from the only non-family member, Danny Wagner.
Watching him play he reminds me of a young Bobby Rondinelli during his Rainbow years, in both looks and technique. A young girl has a poster held up ‘ DON’T F%*K IT UP DANNY’. As she beams away. The crowd chant Danny, Danny, in time to his kick drum. He goes around the roto toms and back onto the kit, in a pacey, interesting, dynamic piece.
As drum solo’s go this had everything and has to stand up there amongst the likes of Aldridge, Powell and the great ‘Bonzo’ himself. The slaughtering speed of the finishing riffs to the session truly make Danny Wagner stand out as Josh claps him back into the end of the song.
‘Black Smoke Rising’ also from ‘From the Fires’ carries on, demonstrating Josh’s great vocal range yet again. The curly haired from man makes it all look effortless as his unique voice gets inside your head and messes with your senses.
The lighting again is exceptional as he poses around the stage, he’s lost the ‘sheer’ over-jacket to the sleeveless one piece, with billowing legs and deep cut front it now looks like something Justin Hawkins, from The Darkness, would wear. Bare footed, he wanders the stage, and as the lights turn red the wah wah guitar strikes up just as he lets go of another epic scream, this one hangs for a lot longer this time. As the song speeds up, we have a pulsing light show, timed to the snare snaps as the drums and guitar go into overload.
‘Caravel’ starts up as we are escorted out of the pit. Heading for the cloaks to hand my kit in the drums thud about and the crowd cheer on. This is yet another from ‘The Battle at Garden’s Gate’, its hard hitting and a great sing along as the crowd join in behind me.
The vibrato on the guitar shimmers around the venue as Josh screams beautifully along with the crowd. Camera deposited I rush upstairs to my seat. The crushing guitar and percussive drums ringing in my ears as I adjust my ear plugs. I grab a quick coke before heading to my seat, although not as hot as in the Ritz, I certainly need a bevy before moving on. Thankfully each song is of ‘proggie’ proportions.
The sound and lighting have been on the main part excellent, I’d have liked a bit more vocal on Marcus Kings set, but he got the openers sound sadly.
‘Highway Tune’ with its extended solo is up next. This epic tune, probably their most well-known and popular song screams away as I fight for my drink and eventually get in my seat, just as the song winds up, well one close to it as someone seems to like my allocation. With a few spare on rows A and B, I obviously jump in to Row A for the rest of the set. Being on the balcony gives me a great view of the proceedings. The song finishes As Josh screams out the finishing vocal riff. Led Zep clones or not the band can rock, the huge cheers continue as the stage is bathed in flashes of red light!
Another from ‘Battle’ commences, ‘Heat Above’. This anthemic tune starts up with Sam on the keys as Josh thanks everyone for standing in the rain waiting to get in. He introduces the song as a celebration of love and growth. The Hammond swirls around in the gods.
There’s a definite ‘Yes’ and ‘Rick Wakeman’ feel, in fact the voice is more ‘Jon Anderson’ than ‘Plant’ on this one. This ballad of a romp sees the crowd in fine voice as they happily sing along. Lighting changes from pure white floods to orange strobes and back as Josh “la la la’s” the lights change back to red as the song drops into a false finish. Hand are in the air waving as Josh brings this one down. The excited crowd carry on screaming one it’s over.
Josh mentions that this next song is one of the more important that they have written, he interrupts himself by saying “give over and get on with the music” as he introduces his brother Jake as the rock n roll chauffeur who is going to guide us through ‘The Weight of Dreams’. Jake now stands stage left and plays staccato notes, his guitar close to feedback as it he plays, his choice of notes give an almost Stairway quality to the intro.
With the stage now bathed in yellow and pink lighting, Josh takes up the vocal with another ‘Yes’ style prog anthem, the album track is nearly 9 minutes in length, it begins with great run around the kit, starting on the brighter roto toms gives a lift to the seriousness of the track, as rises and falls like a roller coaster.
Sam puts his bass guitar aside as he jumps on the Hammond, while Danny smashes around the kit and Jake fires up the SG, as the song goes into a jam fuelled breakdown. With Jake riffing out a stunning melodic solo at stage left, brother Josh quickly leaves the stage.
The solo continues as Jake, almost Angus Young duck walks across to stage right, his rocking back and forth is endless as he teases the girls, Josh has now reappeared with a tambourine and stands at the rear of the set rocking out. Techs run on and off-stage untangling Jakes extra-long guitar cables. Before re-joining back on the vocals, Josh launches the tambourine into the crowd, and the song is brought to an end with the stage flooded in red light and more cheering form the ever-buoyant crowd.
Josh ask’s if we want another, the crowd scream back it’s reply, so Josh say’s “do it Jakie” who promptly starts into ‘When the Curtain Falls’ another meaty riff flows from his fingers as more vocal acrobatics are unashamedly projected from Josh, before he encourages the crowd to sing. This fan favourite is met with a field of raised arms and screams. Bare footed Josh mouths the words along as the crowd sing their hearts out. As the set comes to an end the band leave the stage.
After the usual chanting for more the band emerge to play a couple more. ‘Edge of Darkness’ is on the set list but appears to be overlooked as the band are straight into ‘My Way, Soon’ from the latest album ‘Battle’. This tune bounces along and sees Josh posing to in the lights and to the fans delight. His voice has lost none of its energy as it soars and swoops along. The solo is greeted by cheers from the crowd as the stage is once again bathed in red light before strobing in a fireworks display of fast lighting changes to end up red before Josh jumps to mark the final end of the song and the lights change to blue.
Jakes guitar feeds back and squeals angrily as Josh says “dangerous dangerous”. Sam has moved back to the piano. Josh introduces the last song of the encore. It’s one about those in love and those searching for love, it’s called ‘Light My Love’ that has the honour of finishing the stunning night off. The crowd, as usual, are straight in with arms raised and phone lights on, they are being waved to the ebb and flow of this, another firm fan favourite from ‘The Battle at Gardens Gate’. The song finishes and the band thank everyone for coming out, they throw the flowers back into the crowd that have been thrown to them.
Walking back to the car its obvious this band are going places, back stage and the tour bus are surrounded by eager fans seeking to get a selfie with their idols. I remember standing waiting for a certain Alice Cooper, Gary Moore and the Scorpions back in the days of my youth. It brings back happy memories from long forgotten days.
The band have been stunning, two sold out nights at the Apollo, with a large proportion of the fans being there for both of them, this shows their growing popularity. Despite opinions being split about their credibility, I would ignore that and get and see them while ticket prices are low, the way the boys are performing it won’t be long before they’re selling out headline shows in big arenas. Did I enjoy the night, you bet I did, the 3hr drive home after such a great night of live music was a breeze!
Set List: 1. Stardust Chords, 2. Safari Song/ Drum Solo, 3. Black Smoke Rising, 4. Caravel, 5. Highway Tune, 6. Heat Above, 7. The Weight of Dreams, 8. Watching Over, 9. When the Curtain Falls, 10. Edge of Darkness, 11. My Way, Soon, 12. Light My Love
The Band are: Josh Kiszca – Vocals, Jake Kiszca – Guitar, Sam Kiszca – Bass, Danny Wagner – Drums.