Flashback for a moment to 2017 when Greta Van Fleet played Summerfest as direct support for the headliner, Shinedown, on one of the ground stages. Now fast-forward one year to the exact same date of that last show. So much has happened to Greta Van Fleet in the span of a year, it was no surprise when they were announced as headliners for the Briggs & Stratton Big Backyard stage.
It was a hot Sunday and there were a couple of hours when everyone wondered if the thunderstorm would pass, but eventually the sky lightened up, the sun came back out and the humidity was still present. You’ve got to love festival season during the summer. You just never know what you’re going to get. As the crowds shifted some with each band that played during the afternoon leading up to Greta Van Fleet’s late evening set, it was during Badflower that the crowds really started to settle in. Of course, the entire center section was pretty much packed for the entire afternoon and evening, but many continued to show up hoping to get a good spot for the night’s main headliner.
The band played a surprising one hour and forty-five minute set comprised of songs from their first EP, Black Smoke Rising, their latest double EP, From The Fires, and a few other unreleased songs. Possibly from their debut full length album to be released later this year. While singer Josh Kiszka still doesn’t do a lot of talking in between songs, he did briefly greet the crowd when the band first came out. Of course, the crowd erupted at the opening notes of Highway Tune. The stage was engulfed in light and fog and after the band started, Josh belted out that opening high note, waving the mic back and forth to make a cool effect, and it was game on. Bassist Sam Kiszka was barefoot, bobbing around, picking his knee up and moving along to the beat of the music, while guitarist Jake Kiszka played in what is becoming his signature rocking back in forth move. Drummer Danny Wagner, who recently suffered an injury to his wrist, played like a madman. Hopefully he was able to fully recover from the incident.
I should add, and I have said this before, but it bears repeating. When you’re in a band with your brother, let alone two brothers, the entire dynamic of the band automatically has a musical advantage. They already understand how each other plays within the flow of the notes of each song and with each word of every lyric. (Josh, Jake and Sam are all brothers) Then with the addition of close friend Danny Wagner on drums, you end up with an extremely tight knit group.
Edge of Darkness, from their second EP, brought the first extended jam of the night, clocking in at almost ten minutes long. This also gave Jake time to shine and he even played guitar behind his head while facing the back of the stage so everyone could witness his fingers at work. During the jam, Josh played along on tambourine and would sing short, high-pitched vocal parts from time to time. The lighting on stage shifted during Talk On the Street from fully engulfed to yellow streams that would crisscross the entire stage, which made for a cool visual effect.
As Sam switched from bass to keys for the next song, Josh told the crowd that Flower Power was his favorite and that it was about peace, love and unity. This was the second of their extended songs coming in around ten minutes. Not only did Josh really belt it out, the keyboard element took the song to another level. Sam also had his own moment in the spot light while playing keys as the rest of the band stopped playing for a bit. Prior to the band coming back in on the song, Josh belted out one more high note to end the song. Damn! That kid can sing!
During You’re The One, a ballad of sorts, Jake played acoustic, Sam continued playing keys and Josh and Jake together shared the same mic during the chorus. The song really was quite perfect. They continue to pay homage to those who have come before them with their cover of Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil before going into Mountain of the Sun with Jake playing slide. Josh prefaced Watching Over as “a grave song” and it held up to its name with red lighting on stage and dark musical undertones.
Lover Leaver Taker Believer was the third song they jammed out coming in at almost 13 minutes long. Greta Van Fleet has really come a long way in the length and detail of their jams. With Jake being the sole guitar player, he really has a lot of room to flourish and to contribute to the groove the rest of the band is playing. At one point during the song, he appeared to be fighting the guitar, taking small steps at a time, as if trying to tame it.
After playing an hour and a half of blistering tunes, the band left the stage. Fans didn’t have to wonder too long about an encore as the band came back out and Josh said, “You asked for it!” Those first few notes of Black Smoke Rising started and once again, the crowd erupted with cheers and clapping. Once the song was finished, Josh yelled out, “One more.” Trust me, no one was going to leave. Safari Song, in all its glory, was how the night would end. From those opening high notes from Josh to Jake taking center stage to solo, to watching Sam lay down that heavy bass tone to Danny having the entire stage to himself for a 4+ minute drum solo. Once he was finished, the band joined together on stage for the end of the song and it was with one final scream and a jump from the three brothers to bring that hot Sunday night to an end.
Greta Van Fleet continue to appeal to all different ages groups. Older, younger, male, female, parents with young kids and teenagers, a lot of whom were walking around in GVF tour shirts. For some, this was their first concert and for others their first time seeing Greta Van Fleet. Taking different moments during the night to watch people’s reaction to what was happening on stage was a positive experience. People were excited over this young, new band and the Rock ‘N’ Roll they were playing. All comparisons aside, Greta Van Fleet are making music that is connecting with people and there is truly something special going with this band.
Click on a photo below to view full size.