The second stop on Michigan rock band Greta Van Fleet’s Strange Horizons tour, who presented their well-received second album The battle at the garden gate, put on two near-sold-out shows in Bridgeport, Connecticut, the second of which I crossed the eastern half of the country to see.
Outside the Hartford Healthcare Amphitheater, the crowd was dotted with Led Zeppelin T-shirts, wreaths of flowers and masks – the latter depressingly reminiscent of the reality that, although live music is back, the pandemic did not go.
After two exceptional opening acts by The Nude Party and Langhorne Slim, the vaulted white-beamed ceiling was obscured by a chilly New England night. As the headliner’s instruments were unveiled under black, triple-checked sheets against a semicircle of flowing white curtains making up the stage, the crowd began to buzz. Super 8 images of the band in an open field floated from both sides of the stage, complemented by fragments of the band’s philosophy softly spoken in a marveling voice. People started to stand up and scream when the long awaited Greta Van Fleet took the stage and frontman Josh Kiszka shouted a welcoming âgood eveningâ.
Two hours earlier, The Nude Party, a six-piece ensemble brought together by a lover of ’60s rock and working on a farm in New York City, opened up to a sparse crowd they quickly won over with a brilliant cover of “Sweet Virginia”. Particularly impressive in the setlist was the very own “What’s The Deal?” I say. “Throughout the ensemble, The Nude Party has expressed the wisdom of youthful angst on tracks that merge the soul of the ’60s with reflections on modern times.
Entering early in a boring and long transition, country-folk singer-songwriter Langhorne Slim muttered âcheckâ too many times to remind us that we were expecting something. As the sun began to set, Slim skimmed through âMeet Me In The City,â a regular track about love, and delivered a thought-provoking commentary on politics and poverty through âPrivate Propertyâ. Slim provided endless energy and emotion throughout his roller coaster of a setlist, letting himself strum flat across the stage and at other times climbing the pit. Slim’s palpable personality and artistry provided a determined performance – raw, captivating and heartwarming in the tides of human emotion.
Shades of blue fell on the roughly 2,500 full seats as Slim put the amphitheater back to an overly long transition. Once Greta got on stage, it became clear that idling was not on the setlist. The group jumped into the “Built by Nations” rankings and quickly moved on to the existential “Trip the Light Fantastic”, which both viewed our political contradictions and mystified our existence as “the dance of carbon through time” .
The quartet delivered their Grammy-nominated âHighway Tune,â which pales in comparison to the dynamics of their latest album, but the crowd seemed to be enjoying it. Reflecting on their roots, Greta returned to “Safari Song”, with an extended drum solo from Daniel Wagner and honored founder “Black Smoke Rising” with an eclectic solo from guitarist Jake Kiszka.
The first break was taken on a third of the setlist – Josh greeted the crowd at Strange Horizons, recognizing it as a “motto of the human experience”.
Drum beats became heartbeats and organ chords became sensitive chords as Greta entered “Heat Above,” a huge sonic contrast to “Black Smoke Rising,” though both tracks testify to themes. similar awareness and action.
The duality of Greta’s universe and the last album shone through the setlist – the ebb and flow, the ups and downs of the human condition, known through confusion, curiosity, despair and love. were articulated as the audience was challenged by âBroken Bellsâ and uplifted by the ethereal âLight My Loveâ.
Rejuvenated, Greta returned to the heavier side of The battle at the garden gate with a cathartic interpretation of “Age of Machine”. In an audience of eight to 80, even the older fans in front of me were no longer seated.
Perhaps on a warning note, the last track before the recall was âWeight of Dreams,â depicting a story of indulgence, ignorance and self-destruction. The stage turned from gold to red to green as eclectic instrumentation seamlessly weaved modernism and medieval sentiments met voices that, refraining from singing on the scale, revolutionized the vocal scale.
The sweet, conclusive chords of the album’s eight-minute bookend gave way to incandescent screams. The audience was lively, warm and lively. Cameras swept through the ecstatic crowd, channeling the footage to monochrome screens neighboring the stage, capturing an inconceivable, ubiquitous energy although a booster was not promised.
The panoramas refocused on the stage as Greta returned with the âStardust Chordsâ reverb and shameless Hollywood commentary âWhen the Curtain Fallsâ. The band let the music speak most deeply and explicitly all night long, but before leaving, Josh prefaced that the last track on the setlist, “My Way, Soon” was an “invitation,” adding something about love, life and legends, stopping in front of a simple statement: “fucking fear”.
The crowd was still white-hot, though inevitably dissipating, as security began to bring pit visitors anywhere towards the exit, aided by older fans who wanted to be in bed before midnight.
Catching anyone who would give me a fleeting comment, I was told that the experience had left them uplifted, captivated and alive. Even though my head was hurting and sweaty, I couldn’t help but agree.
Strange Horizons was created consciously and brilliantly – the performance channeled the duality and ecstasy of The battle at the garden gate, gently controlling inflection, awe and applause. As much as the audience wanted to exist right now forever, we can only hope the memory will last this long.
I walked over to the car, rolled down the windows and whispered “My way, soon” on the way back to Michigan, internalizing the greatness of Greta Van Fleet’s discography, knowing in the midst of the chaos , from the confusion and wonder of it all, “I’m going to bet on a chance if I just have one / I’m going to throw away the plans, live without the burden.”
Daily arts contributor Leah Leszczynski can be contacted at lmleszcz @umich.edu.