Better Than: Hearing a drunk crowd shout “Freebird” at a concert where the annoyed band onstage did not write and will not perform said timeless classic by that name.
It would have been Ronnie Van Zant’s 65th birthday had he not perished–with other members of Skynyrd and their entourage–at the age of 29 in a 1977 plane crash. But kid brother Johnny has been doing him proud since 1987, and at the Beacon Theatre last night, the sometimes-stoic singer was engagingly animated, commanding the stage and leading the band through a quite-amazing amount of classic rock radio standards.
Though there’s only one original member remaining in Skynyrd–guitarist Gary Rossington–this is one of the group’s better lineup’s of the last 26 years, with longtime guitarist Rickey Medlocke whammying and wah-wah-ing his way through the hits, and Johnny Colt (ex Black Crowes) and keyboardist Peter “Keys” Pisarczyk quirky-cool replacements for the late Leon Wilkeson and Billy Powell, respectively.
As Rossington entered the stage alone, playing slide guitar, the lyrics to the opening song–the new “Last of a Dyin’ Breed”–rang true. The relentless road dogs play the hits as written, with an enthusiasm and infectious energy that belies both their years and the many thousands of times they’ve run though the crowd-pleasing gems like ‘What’s Your Name,” “Saturday Night Special,” “That Smell,” and the boogie goodness that is “I Know a Little.”
In fact, there are so many “mandatory” hits that, in recent years, Skynyrd has resorted to a sort of “greatest-hits” medley in the middle of the show, playing choice bits from “Gimme Back My Bullets,” “Whisky Rock A Roller,” and “The Needle and the Spoon,” lending a slight Vegasy schmaltz to the proceedings, but pleasing many fans by fitting in the sing-along classics.
While some might criticize Skynyrd for continuing on without most original members–ala Axl Rose and his current Guns N’ Roses, or KISS sans Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, the Skynyrd lineup honor their fallen comrades both in word and with their performances. For Skynyrd, the past is always present, and the unseen but not forgotten presences onstage serve as a joyous reminder rather than a sad specter.
Critical Bias: I’ve likely seen Skynyrd at least 16 times since 1987, but sadly, am too young (how often can I say THAT?) to have seen the original, pre-77 lineup.
Overheard: “Who knew there were so many redneck Yankees?” (Referring to geography, not baseball players.)
Random Notebook Dump: “Pot smell is permeating…”