Doors have been open for 45 minutes when I finally make it inside The Stache for Greta Van Fleet‘s long sold out headline performance. The room is packed with one of the most diverse audiences the venue has seen in some time, but they are all united by the unspoken understanding they are in on rock’s next big thing. The band from Frankenmuth, a town just 137 miles away via interstate 96, has quickly ascended the rock and roll echelon helped in no small part by nods from some of the genre’s biggest names. In fact, they opened for fellow Michigan rock hero Bob Seger during his sold out return to DTE Energy Centre (Pine Knob) just one week before tonight. That show welcomed 15,274 screaming fans. This show will host just over the normal capacity of 400.
Before the show everyone came to see begins we are treated to the communal discovery experience of Arkansas born rock act Welles. Delivering a fitting similar, but distinctly different take on rejuvenating a bygone era in rock The four-piece band quickly proves good enough to pass the test of whether or not people will put away their phone to enjoy someone they probably don’t know and continue to hold their attention throughout their set. Their spin on rock conveys a hazy world of raw talent with just enough influence from classic Southern greats to carve a niche all their own in a crowded genre landscape. The people in the back don’t seem to get it, but the people in the back never do.
It is impossible to ignore the strange energy in The Stache tonight. People from all walks of life are in the room this evening, which is a bit different from your typical Thursday night crowd. Most shows have a very specific audience, usually young adults and teens or strictly full-blown adults with real world problems on their shoulders, but that is not the case here. As I walk around the room in the minutes before headliner take the stage I overhear conversations about everything from Riot Fest plans to talk of whether or not Alice Cooper will ever headline in the city again. The love of rock is palpable, but expectations for what will soon follow are not. Some seem to be merely curious about the group, likely because of their single “Highway Tune,” while others are already proclaiming the group to be rock’s next big thing. The only other thread of commonality is the recognition that Greta Van Fleet is comprised of very young men, which they absolutely are, and how that could mean great things for their future.
The lights go out right on time and the group emerges from the venue’s kitchen – the only way to sneak into the overcrowded space – to applause that carries them onto the stage. A small technical hiccup delays the music momentarily, but no one seems to mind. Vocalist Josh Kiszka nervously tells the crowd the wait will be worth it with a slight giddiness in his voice, while the other members busy themselves with their instruments until everything is ready to go. Such setbacks could derail any show, but that is not the case here.
As soon as Greta Van Fleets begins their first song all the hype and excitement that has gone into tonight’s performance feels rightfully deserved. In a moment the group appear to channel the rock deities of decades long past into their beings for an hour-long set that both pays homage to those icons and strives to break new ground with a similar sound. The singles get the reaction you would expect, but it’s the audience’s desire to hear everything else the band has to offer that takes me by surprise the most. Where many shows tend to deflate when unfamiliar material is played the opposite seemed to occur in The Stache. Everyone in the room had only heard, at most, four song from Greta Van Fleet before tonight. All four of those tracks make the set, as well as covers of “Evil (is Goin’ On)” by Howlin Wolf and – perhaps the true highlight of the night – “That’s All Right Mama” from Elvis Presley. The latter closed out the group’s encore, and it was met with rapturous applause.
Throughout Greta Van Fleet’s performance I cannot help taking my eyes off stage to take in the reaction from the crowd. The old rock diehards who were proclaiming the band to be the future of the genre before they even took the stage are wearing smiles and those merely intrigued at first are now bopping along, often with their drinks raised high. There are also several people watching the show through the cell phone, either while capturing the moment or sharing it via FaceTime, but by their constant movement it feels like anyone is getting a clear, in focus shot. As much as anyone may desire to preserve this moment everyone is far too enraptured by its magic to do anything other than enjoy it for themselves – as they should. It is clear that within weeks or months Greta Van Fleet will be too popular to tour venues of this size, which makes the fact we’re here now all the more special. Even the band seems to recognize this, as each member can be seen beaming with joy throughout the set. There will be many more nights to rock, but none other not quite like this one.
Greta Van Fleet