The crowd was still wrapped halfway around the block when the stage lights in the main room of The Intersection first dimmed on the second to last night of 2017. A smattering of applause bounced off the venue walls as a sample from the fake film Angels With Filthy Souls, which you probably know as the old movie Kevin uses to fool people in Home Alone, played through the speakers. People in the crowd, most still bundled in winter coats and scarves, quoted the scene aloud as it played and the members of Goodbye June slowly filled the dark stage. The lights rose and the half-filled room warmly welcomed the band, but all too soon their response transitioned to the traditional silent judgment all opening bands know. Goodbye June took in their audience, which was growing with each passing second as more and more people entered the building, and proceeded to deliver their own brand of rock and roll. Greta Van Fleet may be the reason people came, but they weren’t the only ones who were going to deliver a great show.
If the best rock and roll today is little more than a modern reinvention on its most transformative generation then Nashville based band certainly looked the part. The long, flowing hair of vocalist Landon Milbourn layed tucked under a black beanie, bouncing off his black jacket as he swayed back and forth in the center of the stage. Guitarists Tyler Baker and Brandon Qualkenbush, both with long hair themselves, showcase precision skills with the relaxed swagger that tells you yes, the can perform this as well intoxicated and yes, they’re probably willing to prove it. You can say image doesn’t matter as long as the music is good, but it’s the ability for anyone to recognize that this band is – as one man in the audience told me – “rock and roll as fuck” from just a passing glance that makes people open up and give them an honest chance.
Goodbye June ripped through two songs of Southern-tinged rock before greeting the crowd long enough to allow everyone on stage to catch their breath. The crowd wasn’t entirely convinced, but the band very clearly did not give a damn. They knew everyone in the room bought a ticket before they even knew who the opener would be, and even if they did they probably had no knowledge of Goodbye June prior to tonight. They had to first prove themselves, and they only way to do so was through their music.
The band continued performing with a quiet, but ever-present confidence. When they transitioned into a brief cover of Rage Against The Machine’s “Bulls On Parade” halfway through their set the crowd was fully engaged. No one in the audience saw it coming, but those paying close attention could tell the band knew they were about to win over the room. They had a hook, something they knew would take an already good rock show into a place those still on the fence could not deny, and they bathed in every moment of the reception they received.
It was around this time that the night truly began. The crowd was nearly in at this point, and those in the middle of the floor could be seen slowly filling in whatever remaining gaps existed in the area closest to the stage. Goodbye June used the crowd’s early acceptance to explore more diverse sounds, offering ballads and pop-leaning material that helped showcase the full range of their talent. All of it was well received, but the heavier songs tended to elicit a stronger response. This was a rock show, after all, and the people were ready to rock.
A perk of having a connection to the media that rarely gets discussed is the ability to capture a sight usually enjoyed only by those on stage: The looks on the faces of those in the front row. On any night this would be something to preserve in omens memory, but this night was special. Those in the front row tonight were people who had waited hours in the brutal eight-degree weather for their chance to be here, and after doing so they stood up front for more than two full hours while awaiting Greta Van Fleet, a band who just months before had played the same club’s front room. They covered the full spectrum of human beings, both in age and ethnicity, and they all fit the classic seasonal rock wardrobe options of all black everything, something flannel, or some combination of the two. One guy in the middle was daringly wearing a white sweatshirt, but even from twenty feet away you coould see the stains of several spilled beers, including many likely not held by the guy in the sweatshirt.
Greta Van Fleet’s sound guy rushed by a small gathering of media and VIP less than one minute prior to the scheduled set time, frantically looking for the fastest way to the front of the house. Photographer Ben Howell directed him around the densely packed crowd by suggesting he walk through the Michigan tundra outside, but the show was nonetheless delayed several minutes while a few final preparations are made. I returned to the bar and order a fresh drink while a carefully curated playlist of classic rock classics that had not yet been played to death by terrestrial radio keep the crowd humming with conversations.
When the lights finally fell the crowd began chanting “Greta” with a cadence that made you believe all 1500 people gathered had somehow coordinated in advance. A soul classic played through the large venue sound system while the stage remained dark. A security leaned over to inform me the song was “very much his shit” and that he intended to listen to it again after the show. The people near him seemed to agree, as they could be seen ever-so-slightly moving their hips while continuing to chant for the band they came to see.
Some bands would follow this moment with a big opening, perhaps with the aide of confetti or similar stage production, but not Greta Van Fleet. Much like their previous appearance in West Michigan, the band emerged on stage intent on properly greeting the crowd before they perform. It was not boisterous or elaborate in any way, shape, or form. In fact, it was a far more sentimental moment than one would have guessed, reminding everyone in attendance these young men were and are very thankful for what their fans have made possible. They were unknown boys not long ago, and soon they would be expected to carry the future of rock on their backs, but for that show on that night, they had a moment to cut loose with friends and family while doing the thing they love. That is special and they treated it as such.
After thanking everyone for their support Greta Van Fleet began what will be a seventy-five-minute performance with “Talk On The Streets”. Mid-song, just as the stage is nearly set ablaze by a solo from Jake Kiszka, a family member standing on the rail nearby broke into tears. It was not a sob from heartache, but rather the kind of lip quivering joy that can only come from seeing someone you love deeply realize their dreams. Loved ones nearby attempted to console her, but she urged them to focus on the performance at hand instead, so they did.
Moments later, during the first refrain of “Black Smoke Rising”, a man seated on a stool raised his cane into the air as he joins those around him in singing (screaming) along with the band.
All this happened unbeknownst to Greta Van Fleet, who was busy also having the time of their lives just feet away. Though they were as focused as ever on stage they were also celebrating a year that no one could have predicted and the endless possibilities ahead. The success “Highway Tune” propelled the group them to the forefront of rock thanks in part to the band’s ability to channel the sound of rock royalty and give it a fresh, yet undeniably familiar twist. From there, the band began an essentially nonstop touring schedule that found them playing to sold-out audiences from coast to coast. They will no doubt continue to do so in the new year, just as soon as they finish recording their first proper album, but that night all that mattered was the moment at hand.
By the time the group decided to slow things down, which in no way diminished the level of excitement in the room, the Intersection crowd was adrift in a bouncing wave of hands and faces that begged the band continue. Greta Van Fleet held the audience in their hands, making sure to take good care of them by delivering flawless cut after flawless cut, often with breaks for solos. The crowd sang along when appropriate, but good mixing made it possible to hear and enjoy Josh Kiszka’s vocals (a unfortunately rare treat at most rock shows). This would be he and his bandmates’ final performance before taking time to work on new material, and though there may be a vulnerability in his voice the fiery confidence in his eyes as he observed the congregation of rock faithful in front of him told you he knew exactly what he was doing. His brothers and drummer Danny Wagner offered similar glances from time to time in between intermittent smiles, but mostly they chose to lose themselves in the groove right along with the crowd.
Greta Van Fleet’s catalog may span just eight songs, but thanks to a slew of covers and unreleased tracks they easily filled an hour of time before stepping away from the bright lights of the stage. This exit was brief, allowing just enough time for the audience to demand an encore, and then they appeared once more. “You’re about to see something no one may ever see again,” Josh Kiszka told the crowd, “so we hope you like it.” Moments later Kiszka introduced his father, who along with the members of Goodbye June joined the members of Greta Van Fleet for a rollicking cover of The Doors’ hit “Roadhouse Blues”. The crowd went wild, as did the band. They grew wilder still when the group followed the cover by closing the show back-to-back cuts of “Highway Tune” and “Safari Song”. It was everything those in attendance had wanted, but it was also what the members of Greta Van Fleet needed.
Solid life advice for those able to have a good time without letting it destroy their lives: Make friends with the people who make your drinks. Having started the night with a Hawaiian White Russian at home, the evening soon transitioned to Long Island iced teas (yes, plural) at the behest of one photographer named above and a bartender whose job we wish to keep so their name must remain a secret. I cannot tell you why they chose Long Islands as the drink of choice, but I can tell you they were strong enough to make you not question their decisions.