Southern rock’s flagship band took the stage at Bell MTS Place on Friday, March 8, for one more time (pardon the pun) on their Last Of The Street Survivors Tour before parting ways for good. Lynyrd Skynyrd, in its current incarnation, had been touring and recording since reforming under an almost entirely new lineup since 1987, 10 years after an infamous plane crash in Mississippi had taken the lives of singer Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, backup singer Cassie Gaines and severely injured several others in the band. Guitarist Gary Rossington was one of those survivors, and is the only member of the famous 1970s lineup that remains in the current band today.
While the revamped lineup is surely not the same for anyone who was old and lucky enough to see the original Skynyrd in concert, it’s not as if Skynyrd 2.0 was a band of nobodies hand-picked out of nowhere to pay homage. Guitarist Rickey Medlocke, who gained fame in fellow Jacksonville band Blackfoot was one of Skynyrd’s earlier members prior to the release of their debut album, and has been part of the new Skynyrd since 1996. Drummer Michael Cartellone, who joined in 1999 gained fame earlier in the 1990s with Damn Yankees, a supergroup that included Ted Nugent, Jack Blades of Night Ranger and Tommy Shaw of Styx. Lead vocalist Johnny Van Zant is the late Ronnie’s younger brother, and was chosen, quite rightfully, to step into his shoes for the second coming of Skynyrd; starting with the live album Southern By The Grace Of God in 1988.
On to the show: As it turns out, the opening act at Bell MTS Place was no slouch either. Starting the show was hometown hero Randy Bachman, busting through a set of classics from his days in The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive that any Winnipegger worth their salt would surely recognize. After Bachman had rolled down the highway and off the stage, Skynyrd came on to Bob Seger’s classic “Old Time Rock And Roll” and went straight to work- precisely, “Workin’ For MCA” from 1974’s Second Helping.
From there, the classics kept coming from Skynyrd’s 1970s golden age, save the exception of “Skynyrd Nation” from the 2009 album God & Guns. Mysteriously absent from Skynyrd’s nostalgia roll was any material off their 1976 album Gimme Back My Bullets, nevertheless the endless wealth of hits played out in full for the 6200-strong audience kept the energy high and the room temperature hot as deep-fried grits on a country stove.
The legendary triple-guitar assault that inspired various other Southern bands after Lynyrd Skynyrd was out in force, composed of Medlocke, Rossington and Mark “Sparky” Matejka who had joined the lineup in 2006. Various staples from “Gimme Three Steps” to “Call Me The Breeze” and “That Smell” were graced by their distinctive fretboard genius while the youngest Van Zant was able to hold his soulful own belting slow ballads of the likes of “Tuesday’s Gone” and “Simple Man”. Peter Keys, taking the place of the late Billy Powell sprinkled fitting key-work throughout, all the way up to the seeming show finale of “Sweet Home Alabama.” As outstanding a show as it had been, any Skynyrd fan knows it wasn’t over. There was one more song for the encore that had to be done- you know, the one that people have ironically or otherwise screamed out for at concerts for the last 40 plus years.
“Free Bird”, set to a video montage of Ronnie Van Zant and other late members of Skynyrd was the obligatory climax from the last of the street survivors themselves. Peter Keys opened the song with the classic sweeping, moving keyboards that made the record what it was in 1973, the unmistakable slide guitar melody of Gary Rossington soon following after. Johnny Van Zant built up the song bit by bit singing the famous words people across the world have come to hear and know, boiling over into the legendary guitar hoedown one Allen Larkin Collins had recorded entirely himself some 46 years prior.
Once the strobes had shut off, the lights had gone down and the final notes had been played, Bell MTS Place rewarded Lynyrd Skynyrd with a well-deserved landslide of applause for a truly marvellous one more time for the road. Let’s hope all the other bands throwing in the towel now after a long run in the limelight can do the same.