Lynyrd Skynyrd Conquers Camden, NJ
In a recent interview that I did with Jethro Tull front man Ian Anderson, he told me his feelings on what constitutes a “band.” “A band,” he said, “can be whoever happens to be in the room at the time.” These thoughts ran rampant through my head as I watched the most recent line up that is Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Most bands change members and have continued or increased success. The addition or subtraction of a player has either very little or a very dramatic impact. Most bands personnel changes are due to varying reasons; drugs, egos, loss of interest and/or sadly, even death.
The highway of rock ‘n’ roll is littered with senseless and tragic deaths, most self induced in some form and some that were out of the victims control; Buddy Holly, Richie Valens, Big Bopper, Stevie Ray Vaughn all come to mind. Perhaps the fateful October 1977 plane crash that took the lives of Steve and Cassie Gaines along with the soul of Lynyrd Skynyrd Ronnie Van Zant, stands out a bit more than others. This came at a time when the band was riding a wave of popularity which was swelling larger by the day.
Skynyrd has never been a band to stand pat with personnel, they’ve had multiple line up changes over the band’s history. This most recent version of one of the world’s most popular southern rock bands features only one pre-crash member and crash survivor Gary Rossington. So when lead singer Johnny Van Zant raised his mic. stand to the capacity crowd and said, “I want to toast all you guys for keeping Lynyrd Skynyrd alive,” I realized at that moment, he was likely paying tribute to the band’s past.
This current line up features Van Zant on vocals, Ricky “The Indian” Medlocke, Mark Matejka and Rossington on guitars, former Black Crowes bassist Johnny Colt, drummer Michael Cartellone, Peter Keys on keyboards and backing vocalists Dale Krantz Rossington and Carol Chase. This latest re-incarnation took to the stage for an hour and twenty six minute set, which from the opening chords of “What’s Your Name?” to the closing cymbal crash of “Sweet Home Alabama,” had the crowd on their feet.
This was a show for all ages, as I saw multiple generations of fans and families filing in to fill the seats of the Susquehanna Bank Center Amphitheater in Camden, N.J. The boisterous attendees were treated to a greatest hits performance as the band ripped off chart topping hit after hit, “Call Me The Breeze” followed the opener and they never looked back as legions of supporters danced, sang and high fived one another in their seats and aisles.
A somewhat tender moment came when Van Zant stepped to the fore and announced, “If you no nothing about Lynyrd Skynyrd, know that we’re big supporters of our troops. This next song goes out to our troops and their families; God bless each and every one of them!” With that the first notes of “Simple Man” reverberated through the now raucous crowd and began the first of four tunes which became instant sing-a-longs making Van Zant’s job a bit easier on this sweltering summer evening.
“Gimme Three Steps,” “That Smell” and the shows finale of “Sweet Home Alabama” which featured a drum led recitation of the classic’s chorus by the sweat drenched crowd that brought a smile to the band’s faces. Upon its conclusion, Skynyrd walked off as the masses began to chant what has become the official unofficial joke of those who appreciate music in all forms and genres; “Freebird” started out as a low rumble and quickly became a thunderous insistence. Bar denizens worldwide and even the Disney film “Cars” have at one point or another bellowed out “Freebird” at an opportune or perhaps inopportune moment.
A solo spotlight illuminated a golden statue of what appeared to be a bald eagle as the crowd erupted. Still chanting the anthem’s title as Peter Keys began tickling the piano with a short introduction before hitting the familiar notes of one of rock’s greatest works. Images of former band members flashed on the large screen behind the band in tribute to those lost and Skynyrd’s storied past as Van Zant began to warble. Soon, he was drowned out by those in attendance as he smiled and nodded to the “Skynyrd Nation” a.k.a. his band mates. This version seemed to follow that of the popular cut off of their classic live album “One More From The Road” which had me wondering, as it did many times throughout the evening, if the current line up was paying tribute to their predecessors with every song; or if this is the new band playing their hearts out in reverence, as well as attempting to carry on the tradition with new works forthcoming; who can say for sure?
As the ending faded and Skynyrd made their exit, I watched as many seemed to appear saddened for what I can only speculate are two reasons; 1) A great show had come to an end or 2) they felt the same sense of loss that I did watching and remembering young lives and talent being tragically cut short much too early. Two of those in attendance, Danielle Ricchezza (who I thought bore a striking resemblance to Sandra Bullock) of Ridley, Pa. and military man Jimmy Cresegiona of Croydon, Pa. saw things a bit differently. “I’ve seen Skynyrd three times,” said Ricchezza, ”and this was the absolute best of them all!“ Cresegonia, who at the age of 34 was attending his first concert, was revved up to a fever pitch, “Unbelievable!,” he said as he smiled from ear to ear. “I preferred to see Bad Co (Skynyrd and Bad Co. are currently touring together) but I’ve been blown away by this so far! What a night!”
I’d say that he pretty much summed it up. The lack of newer material, as far as I could tell upset no one and the old songs sounded as fresh as they did in the early days of the band. Next up, Bad Co. but that’s another review coming soon…but for now, this “Street Survivor” would be glad to take a “Second Helping” of Lynyrd Skynyrd as soon as possible.