Review: Greta Van Fleet kicks off Fillmore run with a bang

The Frankenmuth rock group played the first of three concerts at the Fillmore Detroit on Tuesday and thrilled a wide array of old school rock fans

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

Greta Van Fleet opened their sold-out three-night stand at the Fillmore Detroit on Tuesday with a tight 90 minutes of throwback rock and roll in front of a capacity crowd proud to share a home state with the Frankenmuth foursome. 

Greta Van Fleet guitarist Jake Kiszka plays his guitar behind his head like the late, great Jimi Hendrix at the Fillmore Detroit on Tuesday.

Between the hard-partying crowd, the thick fog of smoke in the air, the beer-soaked floor and the Zeppelin-esque sounds of the evening's entertainment, the Fillmore felt like a 1970s basement. Taking note of the mixture of cigarette, marijuana and vape clouds in the air, frontman Josh Kiszka teased the crowd. "Smoke 'em if you got 'em," he said as the band took the stage for its two-song encore. 

The crowd may have been celebrating, but Greta Van Fleet was at work. The band took the stage promptly at 9:15 p.m. and was off stage at 10:45 p.m., as dialed in as clock punchers. And there were no indulgences in sight: the boys sipped from water bottles and the only smoke on stage was wafting from fog machines.

They certainly looked the part of '70s rock gods. Josh wore what looked like a sherwani, a headband, feathers in his hair and moccasins on his feet while his brothers -- guitarist Jake and bassist Sam -- were decked out in flowing patterned shirts. And they wailed like hounds of hell, bashing out a swirling, propulsive jam that stretched for several minutes at the end of "Edge of Darkness," just the evening's second song. 

With Greta Van Fleet, you hear what you want to hear. Those who say they're ripping off Led Zeppelin have no shortage of evidence, and the boys themselves won't even try to stop you. Others hear what they've been so desperate to hear for a long, long time: A young rock band with a familiar sound that reminds them of the rock and roll they grew up on. And the kids who don't know Led Zeppelin from Lenny Kravitz hear four kids rocking out with a ferocious, ear-splitting sound that's new to them. What is not to love?

That's why the crowd cut such a wide swath on Tuesday, with a healthy sprinkling of bros, dads, drunk girls, wasted dudes, bikers, couples, beardos and weirdos. And all raised their hands to the sky with rock and roll horns locked as Josh Kiszka howled underneath his mop of curls and raised his hands triumphantly toward the rock gods under whom he prays. (Now if we can just figure out why this young man raised 20 minutes from Saginaw suddenly has a British accent when he says "audience," we'll be getting somewhere.) 

Josh has impressive vocal capabilities, and locks his jaw in place as he launches into his Robert Plant wail. He's very controlled and knows not to blow his voice out on any given night; in addition to two more nights at the Fillmore, Wednesday and Friday, the Gretas -- drummer Danny Wagner rounds out the group -- have a big summer ahead of them, including a smattering of big fest gigs.

For all the hype surrounding Greta Van Fleet, the band is still young, and is still growing. They were backed by a simple stage production that didn't include much more than a few stage lights and a handful of flood lamps; the flying rigs and roller coaster drum kits will have to wait for a later date. At this point the band is still working off of a pair of EPs -- the group's debut album is due out this summer -- and it ran through most of its songs on Wednesday, including the charged opener "Highway Tune," "Flower Power," "Talk on the Street," encore "Black Smoke Risking" and closer "Safari Song." They also mixed in a cover of Howlin' Wolf's "Evil," adding another element to the band's mood board.

The rock chops are there, an element of swagger and danger would be a welcome addition. It has to come naturally, of course, but the best rock bands have a volatility to them that makes them combustible. That combustibility has been the downfall of many of those bands, however, so perhaps there's something to be said for practicality and levelheadedness. It's tough to rage against the machine, after all, when you're sitting on the sidelines.   

All of which is to say the band is still on the rise, and while nothing is guaranteed, the energy in the room on Tuesday felt less like a homecoming and more like a big send off. It may be the last time for a long time you can catch them in a room the size of the Fillmore; already as fans trickled out of the building, advertisements were hyping a show later this year at the Fox Theatre. And if tickets would have been on sale, a line would have started forming immediately.

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