Lynyrd Skynyrd delivers masterful southern rock

A review of Lynyrd Skynyrd at the Comcast Center on July 1, 2010

, Contributing Writer

The biker chaps, tattoos, and Confederate flags were out in force Thursday night as the spirit of southern rock swept over the Comcast Center in anticipation of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s visit. The air of an upcoming Independence Day added a sense of patriotism which would gracefully complement the ambiance of southern pride as the night played out its course. And when it had, one thing was clear: Lynyrd Skynyrd know how to electrify a crowd. From start to finish of their lengthy set, the level of energy palpable in the venue was simply insane.

As soon as Bret Michaels concluded, a buzz of excitement filled the air as fans waited for the legends of southern rock. A white sheet hid the stage while it was set up, and as soon as the lights dimmed again, the place erupted. It’s doubtful that so many people have ever screamed so enthusiastically at a white sheet. Finally the sheet dropped, revealing Lynyrd Skynyrd as they opened with “Workin’ For MCA”. Guitarist Michael Matejka took the honors of first solo, and wasted no time producing a dazzling melody as his fingers danced across the frets. Fans then got a taste of the latest album, last September’s God & Guns with “Skynyrd Nation”. It has a much more mainstream sound than the band’s older material with its heavy riffs and fillers, yet retains some of that defining southern element through vocalist Johnny Van Zant’s gruff voice and a solo from guitarist Gary Rossington, the only remaining founding member of Lynyrd Skynyrd. The set also included “Still Unbroken”, another single from the new album.

Then it was right back to some of that older material, the recognizable melody of “What’s Your Name” eliciting an impressive reaction from fans. The song featured Rickey Medlocke’s guitar, and more importantly, Medlocke’s facial expressions. The faces he makes while ripping through solos are both hilarious and bizarre. Whether they are genuine or not, they are one of the reasons to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in concert. And people enjoyed it; the perpetual cheering, which carried on through “That Smell”, reached a point where it left the speakers fighting to be heard, an epic battle of decibels.

Van Zant would take a moment later on to recognize the upcoming Independence Day by dedicating the next song – “Simple Man” – to the nation’s troops and their families. It was a powerful moment in the Comcast Center, as thousands of people swayed back and forth in unison, raising small American flags which had been distributed by soldiers prior to the concert. Van Zant even paused during the song to declare, “God bless our troops and their families.” This was a meaningful gesture; any frontman will take the time between songs to show gratitude to our nation’s defenders, but not many care enough to interrupt a song. It was inspiring to see such a genuine act. The emotional interlude would continue as a recording of “All I Can Do Is Write About It” played while pictures of the late Ronnie Van Zant, the band’s founding vocalist, scrolled across the screen.

From there, the tempo picked up to conclude the set. The band launched into “Gimme Three Steps”, driving fans into a frenzy of dancing and screaming, while Van Zant spun around with a Confederate flag tied to the microphone stand. The cacophony continued into “Call Me The Breeze”, with Peter “Keys” Pisarczyk bringing the keyboard to life with a spectacular solo. Then came fan favorite and classic rock hit “Sweet Home Alabama”, and the band departed the stage. But the cheering only grew louder, for everyone knew what was coming next.

And when Lynyrd Skynyrd returned, Van Zant had gracefully replaced the Confederate flag with the good old star spangled banner, which he saluted as Rossington produced the wistful opening notes of “Free Bird”. The anticipation built through the first verses as fans waited for the song’s defining component. Then, after a lively keyboard melody, Medlocke took the spotlight as Lynyrd Skynyd’s three guitarists jumped into one of the best known solos of all time. Alternating leads, fingers flying up and down the frets, they turned three electric guitars into a furious, passionate harmony of classic rock at its best. Eyes were turned skyward as fans savored each riff, hammer-on, and chord that the band had deliberately saved for last. Finally, as Medlocke vigorously swung the vibrato bar and Van Zant appeared with an enormous American flag, the song winded down and the band again left, to a well-deserved clamor of cheers.

Lynyrd Skynyrd may have only one remaining original member, but the classics are as alive as ever, and the new material is sounding pretty good, too – it adds an element of mainstream rock, while still retaining the features that brought them into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. What really stood out Thursday night was the fans’ reception; the band ignited the crowd from the opening notes, and that energy never diminished until the encore concluded. Seeing them perform only gives the impression that their talent and passion will never fade.

Bret Michaels and 38 Special also had decent performances in their opening sets. Back at nearly full health after a rough start to the year, Michaels warmed the crowd up with Poison’s hits “Talk Dirty To Me”, “Every Rose Has Its Thorn”, and closed with “Nothin’ But A Good Time”. All are great songs but just didn’t have the same living-the-classic feel that the full band would have brought. There was only a handful of fans present when opener 38 Special took the stage, but they were treated to a lively set which featured “Rockin’ Into The Night”, “Caught Up In You” and “Hold On Loosely”.



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