Thursday 23rd April 2015
Hammersmith Apollo, London
The 'Skynyrd Nation' hit London as America's most famous Southern rock band rolled into town to play the sold out third night of the European leg of their world tour after a three year hiatus from these shores. The history of Skynyrd has been well documented previously. One of the unluckiest bands ever. At the height of their fame in the 70's, three members – including talismanic frontman Ronnie van Zant – were killed in a plane crash. Since that time, several other members have also passed away and misfortune seems to have dogged the band's various members and crew for many years. Original drummer Bob Burns died in a motor accident only this month, the latest of eight Skynyrd musicians to meet a premature end. Yet, Lynyrd Skynyrd still endures, nearly fifty years after they first began.
The night started with Nashville-based South-East London power three-piece Leogun, who kicked off proceedings with a confident mix of blues-tinged rock & roll and some gnarly guitar solos. With a sound reminiscent of Jack White or Wolfmother with a bit of Robert Plant/Led Zeppelin thrown in for good measure in my view, the band were the perfect opener, and the Skynyrd crowd that arrived early were suitably impressed having probably never heard of them previously!! Highlights for me were ‘Piggy in the Middle’ and ‘Everyday’ plus two new songs ‘Magic Potion’ and ‘Beauty Queen’. They have clearly come a long way from the Red Lion in Gravesend, the Danson Park festival and two 2013 WRC Award category nominations to the Eventim Apollo. I really hope they go on to even bigger and better things....
Coming onstage to rapturous applause, following a burst of AC/DC's ‘Thunderstruck’, Lynyrd Skynyrd stood comfortably on stage. Ricky Medlocke, Mark Matejka and the only original member, Gary Rossington, all filling out that big guitar sound Lynyrd Skynyrd is famous for, the band really couldn't miss. Along with Michael Cartellone on drums, Peter Keys on keyboards (how apt!) the band engaged with the audience from the get-go, every person on stage knew their part to perfection. The late Ronnie's younger brother Johnny Van Zant is the perfect frontman, a commanding presence with a Saltire flag pinned to the front of his leather waistcoat and a small Union Jack for good measure as well and filling his older sibling's shoes brilliantly. The band plunged into their guitar-heavy rodeo rock with melodies and harmonies so tight you could bounce a penny off them. The band were a well-oiled machine, switching from heavy rock & roll to emotional ballads with ease. Throughout the show, at stage right, former Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt donned multiple hat changes that included everything from feathers to a full wolf hide in deference to original deceased bassist Leon Wilkeson. And let's not forget the sweet tones of the Honkettes, Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase on backing vocals, rounding the sound out nicely. Yes, I believe that does make nine members on stage!!
Highlights included ‘The Needle and the Spoon’, ‘Tuesday's Gone’ and ‘What's Your Name?’, the latter showing that the band can hold a tune that keeps your attention until the last note and ‘That Smell’, which Van Zant introduced with “We’ve been there, done ALL of that, and ain’t never goin’ back again!” My own personal favourite ‘Simple Man’ induced a massive singalong as usual and was dedicated to British and US troops and their families, with Van Zant adding the Union Jack flag to his mic stand as he reminded folks of the band’s continuous support of those that defend our freedom. Closing showstopper ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was outstanding, with a massive State flag unfurled behind them, the band showing they are still massively proud of their beginnings and their roots, and the crowd screamed along with every word. The band were joined on stage by good friend and tourist from last year who was Bad Company guitarist Mick Ralphs no less, which was met by a roar from the WRC ensemble...
As is usual with Skynyrd, this was followed by a lengthy encore of fan-favourite and epic anthem ‘Free Bird’, which featured a flag backdrop of an American eagle, with the names of their dearly departed bandmates, friends and family from the 1977 plane crash that claimed their lives. I'd like to say there weren't many dry eyes in the house, but I couldn't see through my own emotion and noise to check. Van Zant exited the stage upon completion of vocals and the left the band to shine as the song spanned into a thirteen minute three-guitar solo full of raw tingling power which would give even the most seasoned headbanger whiplash and my air guitar was in full swing as usual!!!
One word describes this gig - phenomenal! Enough said. Was it nearly the same show as three years ago? Yes but who cares.... Will I get the chance to hear them play again and yell out "Free Bird" one more time?.. Who knows?.. If I don't as I probably won't.. then this was the perfect goodbye... God bless 'em. The Skynyrd legacy lives on!!
PIggy in the Middle
By the Reins
Workin' for MCA
I Ain't the One
Call Me the Breeze (J.J. Cale cover)
What's Your Name
Saturday Night Special
The Needle and the Spoon
I Need You
Gimme Three Steps
Sweet Home Alabama (with Mick Ralphs)
Encore: Free Bird
Wrinkly The Silver