9 September 2006
World Arena, Colorado Springs, CO
The history of Southern Rock champions Lynyrd Skynyrd, took a pivotal turn on 20 October 1977, when their tour plane crashed into a swamp while enroute to a gig in Baton Rouge, LA, killing, among others, lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and vocalist Cassie Gaines. Devastated by the disaster, the band essentially disappeared from the public eye for almost ten years.
In 1987, several original members reunited, and hired Ronnie's young brother Johnny to take over lead vocal duties, in an outfit dubbed as a Lynyrd Skynyrd Tribute. This new lineup completed a 32-city tour, including one stop at Farm Aid III. Four years later, the same basic lineup toured as Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991. Eventually, the tribute band re-assumed the title Lynyrd Skynyrd.
This new Lynyrd Skynyrd has proven themselves remarkably successful in basically maintaining the following that the original-era band had, in their longevity, and in their preservation of the vibe and heritage of the days before 20 October 1977.
Admittedly, Lynyrd Skynyrd is now largely a nostalgia act, in that 90-95 % of their setlist draws from 1973-1977 material. Though, one would be hard pressed to find anyone in the listening audience to complain.
Johnny Van Zant's vocals have more husky effects, and less nasal quality, than those of Ronnie. Brother Donnie, of .38 Special, also has unique vocal qualities himself. But, Johnny's presence, appearance, and trademark Van Zant stage running and microphone batoning, make the stage seem eerily similar to a time 30 years earlier.
Entering the World Arena, I experienced more bodily inspection than I had for any previous concert--Does Lynyrd Skynyrd really actract a criminal element? As the inspector was frisking me, she hit upon my front pocket, and asked, "Is that a cell phone?" Predictably, I responded with, "No, but you're welcome to check it out." She upstaged me with her response of, "You'll have to take it out yourself."
Ever the incestuously small town, Colorado Springs invariably presents someone I know at every concert I seem to attend in town. Sure enough, a contractor colleague was sitting two rows behind, and two friends we met earlier in the day sat one row behind her.
My friend and I decided we were going to yell out a relatively less-familiar title between songs, in particular, "Working For MCA". To our surprise, Lynyrd Skynyrd stole our thunder by opening with this track.
The greatest-hits setlist proceeded with "That Smell", "Gimme Back My Bullets", "Gimme Three Steps", "You Got That Right","I Know A Little", J. J. Cale's "The Call Me The Breeze", "What's Your Name?", and a similarly-melodized "Don't Ask Me No Questions", "The Ballad Of Curtis Loew", and "Simple Man".
Van Zant did bring out a recent tune, "(My neck's always been) Red, (my hair is turning) White, and (my collar's still) Blue".
During the set-ending "Sweet Home Alabama", I decided to stand on top of my chair and point at my Neil Young T-Shirt. I got a wink, an nod, and a point from Johnny Van Zant.
The current lineup also includes original guitarist Gary Rossington, and keyboardist Billy Powell, just recently out of rehabilitation, much to the appreciation of his band and his fans. Billy continues to sit comfortably leaning back, and at the same time gliding forward, on his white, padded bench behind a white piano, on a carousel that rotates as the songs change from verse to chorus. On the right of the stage are two strong backup singers.
Then, the encore. I believe this marks the first time, in over 100 concerts, that the performer honored my request for "Freebird".
Perhaps most interesting about this band is its evolution from Southern rebelliion to mainstream Americana, because of their decades of accumulating a large National following. As such, during the show the band waved both rebel and U.S. flags. How's that for celebrating diversity?
[****] - Steven T.
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