Lynyrd Skynyrd Played the Classic Rock Hit Parade at Verizon on Friday

Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eddie Money, Blue Öyster Cult
Verizon Theatre
June 12, 2015

If you went to Lynyrd Skynyrd's show at Verizon Theatre on Friday night expecting to find much evidence of today’s political and racial tensions, well, you came away empty-handed. For all the band's Confederate flag-waving and good-old-boy pretenses, this was a light-hearted, family friendly affair. And that shouldn't come as too much of a surprise: Despite a bill that included fellow classic rock-radio staples Eddie Money and Blue Öyster Cult, this night was all about local radio station KZPS LoneStar 92.5 FM and its morning team, Bo and Jim.

This was the fourth annual installment of Bo and Jim's Bash, and their R&B/party band, Stone Cold Sweat, even opened the night up before Blue Öyster Cult took the stage. With affordable tickets starting at $9.25, the place was near capacity shortly into the evening. There were plenty of shirts seen in the audience for the recent Rolling Stones, the Who and Rush shows, and it made perfect sense. There were a lot of men and women over 40 in attendance, but there was a healthy portion of much younger people, too. It was the classic rock P1 in full display, and the evening was a rather drama-less affair.

Blue Öyster Cult came on an hour after Stone Cold Sweat had started and did an hour-long set, dominated by their best-known material. Whittled down from its original incarnation to Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser and Eric Bloom with younger players, they entertained without incident. Co-frontman Bloom was more of an MC, talking between each song to the audience. When he introduced “Career of Evil,” a tune they co-wrote with Patti Smith back in the ’70s, there actually was a crowd response to the calling of her name.

During “Godzilla,” they put the spotlight on bassist Kasim Sulton, not only giving him a bass solo, but also allowing him to play segments of songs by his previous employers: Joan Jett’s “I Hate Myself for Loving You,” Utopia’s “Bang the Drum All Day” and Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By the Dashboard Light.” Certainly not something you often see at shows where the time is tight and hits are meant to be played one after the other. And yes, a reference to the Saturday Night Live “More cowbell” sketch was made during “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper.” Bloom pretended to play a cowbell as the tune kicked in. Think of it as “air-cowbelling.”
Eddie Money sauntered onto the stage in all black with a band dominated by noticeably-younger players. Turns out the drummer, rhythm guitarist and backing singer were his children.

The set revolved around Money’s biggest hits from the ’70s and ’80s, including “Baby Hold On,” “Walk On Water” and “Take Me Home Tonight.” Daughter Jesse showcased some excellent pipes as co-vocalist on all of the songs, as well as a solo turn on Sly and the Family Stone’s “I Want to Take You Higher.” Son Dez played a solo original called “Let’s Get Out of Here” that was more in the vein of what Coldplay and Mumford & Sons do these days, but it was tuneful and enjoyable and seemed to go over well with the audience. Drummer Julian, fresh out of high school, tried his best, but there was noticeable hesitation between his beats. That often led to a looseness throughout the set, and a few tunes ended awkwardly.

Money, who looks rough around the edges at 66, still sang great. He was in constant motion and didn’t run out of breath as he sang. His between-song banter was more of an attempt at stand-up comedy, touching on topics like drug tests, his probation officer and his daughter wrecking two cars. Money also had the best quote of the night when he said, just before starting "Two Tickets to Paradise," "I might live in Oakland, but I'm a Cowboys fan."

Lynyrd Skynyrd took stage at 9:30 and didn’t leave the stage for an encore until a little before 11. As a nine-piece outfit featuring only a couple of original members, they carried the spirit of what made the band famous in the ’70s. Frontman Johnny Van Zant, who has been singing for the group since 1987, kept a calm Southern charm as he addressed the standing crowd. The band led off with “What’s Your Name,” a song that set the tone of the night of their blend of country, folk, blues and rock.

Van Zant welcomed the longtime and new members of their fanbase, which he prefers to call the Skynyrd Nation, and treated them to a lot of favorites and album cuts. In other words, if you only had a greatest hits compilation or had worn out your vinyl copies of Second Helping and Street Survivors over the years, you were happy.

As predictable as the set was, it was actually a very good show, too. The band might be more of a tribute act sprinkling in some new material, but there is something unique and enjoyable about their take on the Southern rock format. Songs about relationships, guns, drugs and alcohol dominated the set, but that’s their shtick. Van Zant frequently said “God bless America” and thanked the members of the armed forces overseas. It was par for the course, but at least it felt genuine.

“Free Bird,” still the song people yell out at shows big and small, no matter what genre, had the biggest impact. No matter how many times it’s played, it’s the kind of epic that no Skynyrd show can be without. Guitarists Gary Rossington, Rickey Medlocke and Mark Matejka all stood front and center as they ripped through the marathon guitar solo section. Overblown as the song reaches into double-digits in length? Maybe, but that’s the song and exactly what the audience wants.

Personal bias: For many years, I wasn’t pro or con with Lynyrd Skynyrd. I wasn’t raised on classic rock radio, but I was certainly aware of songs like “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Free Bird.” It wasn’t until I did Rock N’ Roll Fantasy Camp a few years ago that I started dig much deeper into Skynyrd’s material.

Lynyrd Skynyrd set list:
“What’s Your Name”
“Still Unbroken”
“Gimme Back My Bullets”
“Don’t Ask Me No Questions”
“The Needle and the Spoon”
“I Need You”
“That Smell”
“Saturday Night Special”
“Simple Man”
“Mississippi Kid”
“Tuesday’s Gone”
“Gimme Three Steps”
“Call Me The Breeze”
“Sweet Home Alabama”
“Free Bird”

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