by MIKE CHAIKEN
Lynyrd Skynyrd is one of those few bands who can perform 90 minutes of music in concert and you can honestly say you’ve heard every track on classic radio.
Besides the obvious ones of “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird,” which served as the encores for the band’s May 24 show at the Mohegan Sun Arena, the band from Jacksonville, Fla. has given us “That Smell,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” “Saturday Night Special,” “Call Me the Breeze,” and so on and so on.
For a band that had released just five albums before a plane crash scuttled their creative juggernaut, that’s an incredible airplay batting average.
However, there is a problem with all of that airtime on classic rock radio. If you’re a certain age, after decades of hearing the recordings of these tracks, you can become a bit immune to their charms. And you could find yourself going, “Oh no, not them again.”
But, I learned something at the Mohegan show. If you want to reinvigorate your love for Skynyrd (and if you have never done so before), go see them in concert.
This current incarnation of Skynyrd crackled with energy all night long . As you listen to the tracks live, you can once again marvel at the triple threat guitar interplay of original guitarist Gary Rossington, Rickey Medlocke, and Mark Matejka that Skynyrd helped popularize in Southern Rock; you listen in awe to the rolling thunder rhythm section of drummer Michael Cartellone and bassist Keith Christopher; you flicker your fingers along in time as keyboardist Peter Keys tickles the ivories for some honky tonk sounds; and then you sing along full-throated with the rousing vocals of Johnny Van Zant, younger brother of Skynyrd’s creative force, the late Ronnie Van Zant.
Truth be told, Skynyrd these days is heavily retooled from the 1970s. Only Rossington remains from the original group. Most of the other original members have passed away.
However, it’s a testament to the power of Ronnie Van Zant’s music and the strength of the current line-up that the songs in a live setting stir you (in the case of “Simple Man,” “Tuesday’s Gone,” and the ubiquitous “Free Bird”); make you want to boogie (“Gimme Three Steps” and “Call Me the Breeze”); or want to fist pump and head bang (“Saturday Night Special” and “Working for MCA.”)
Whereas I may have wanted to turn the dial if these tracks came on the radio, in this live-setting, Lynyrd Skynyrd reminded me why I learned to like the songs in the first place.
Also, major kudos to Johnny Van Zant. It must have been tough years ago to step into his brother’s shoes and sing the music Ronnie wrote. But over the years, Johnny has done wonders in preserving his brother’s musical legacy. His voice is strong. And he’s a fine front man, engaging the audience, and making everyone feel at home and feel the love the band has for its fans.
Lynyrd Skynyrd is calling this a “farewell” tour. But Van Zant reassured the fans that it’s less “goodbye” and more, “Till we meet again.” And this is good for fans like me who needed to be reminded of the excitement inherent in the music beloved by “Skynyrd Nation.”
Opening for Lynyrd Skynyrd was Wild Adriatic, a band out of upstate New York. They played an enjoyable set. Their sound, earthy with a touch of the rhythm and blues, was a nice complement to the headliners. And the way they jammed on their tracks, they clearly were stellar musicians. The only thing really missing were songs. They could play like the devil. But to take it to the next level, that playing will need to support some songs that truly snag the ear.
I give Lynyrd Skynyrd at Mohegan Sun Arena on May 24, three-and-half out of four stars.
PHOTOS by MIKE CHAIKEN