Whilst setting up the page for this review I went to YouTube to find a clip and made the mistake of scrolling down to look at some of the comments, and as usual there were plenty of people bemoaning the fact that this line-up of Lynyrd Skynyrd is not the original line-up – in other words not fronted by Ronnie Van Zant – and is therefore not worth listening to. In some ways it is understandable – as an example, this writer is guilty of publicly commenting on the current Guns N’ Roses circus doing the rounds – but unlike with Axl Rose and his post-1994 bandmates, regardless of who is in the band the music has never suffered. Obviously Ronnie Van Zant is no longer with us but does that mean the other Lynyrd Skynyrd alumni – led by original guitarist Gary Rossington – should never get on stage to play those classic songs that, judging by the reactions on the faces of the audience on this concert film, fans still want to hear?
This Blu-ray features two concerts recorded by the current line-up – consisting of Rossington, singer Johnny Van Zant, guitarists Rickey Medlocke and Mark Matejka, long-time drummer Michael Cartellone, bassist Johnny Colt and keyboard player Peter Keys – playing Skynyrd‘s first two albums from 1973 and 1974 respectively. Despite having only one member from the line-up that recorded those albums playing on the stage there is so much love for the band, the music and what it all represents that you would have to be made of stone not to get swept up in the good time vibe coming from the stage, and let us not forget the celebrated final line-up of the 1970s was not the same one that recorded those two albums so any argument about who is in the band at any given time is somewhat irrelevant.
Anyway, onto the matter at hand. Once you hit play and the band launch into opener ‘I Ain’t the One’ it strikes you how clear and sharp the image is, boasting a picture quality that could sell the idea of Blu-ray to those who don’t already have it. So it looks fantastic but how about the sound? Obviously, having a 5.1 surround sound setup will get the most out of it and it really does make the difference from listening to it through your television’s built-in speakers, although if that is all you have it still sounds great. The band themselves are on top form, with each member getting their moment to shine in the spotlight as those classic tunes are reeled off one after another – ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, ‘Gimme Three Steps’, ‘Simple Man’ and ‘Things Goin’ On’ provide a solid run up to the inevitable brilliance of the immortal ‘Free Bird’, replete with an intro from Ronnie Van Zant himself. There’s not a lot more you can say about this song that hasn’t been said already but it never feels like a chore to sit through the melancholic refrains of “Lord knows I can’t Change” before those machine gun-like guitar solos are unleashed, with Rickey Medlocke playing like a man possessed and doing Allen Collins‘ original solo justice. It’s a song that remains as powerful and potent as it was 40 years ago and to be honest, if this is the line-up that will continue to play it then who can complain when it still manages to stir the soul as much as it does?
But once “Pronounced ‘Leh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd” is over it is time for the band’s equally-as-important second album “Second Helping” to get an airing, and just as the first album closes on a classic the second one opens with perennial jukebox favourite ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ – watching it on this disc it’s as if the band have played their encore halfway through their set. The original album was instrumental in cementing Skynyrd‘s trademark three-guitar attack and here it is no different as Medlocke, Rossington and Matejka carry the melodies of favourites like ‘Workin’ For MCA’ and ‘Call Me the Breeze’ alongside the rarely heard likes of ‘I Need You’ and ‘Don’t Ask Me No Questions’, all the while singer Johnny Van Zant visibly enjoying singing material he hasn’t performed live before.
Apart from the concerts the disc also features 20 minutes of backstage footage, mainly featuring the nucleus of Johnny Van Zant, Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke (who was Skynyrd‘s drummer in a very early line-up) giving their thoughts on the legacy of the band, with Johnny even addressing the negativity that is thrown at the later line-ups. There are also soundbites from the other band members, backing singers The Honkettes, the crew and fans who still turn out to these shows 40 years later to have a good time.
To the naysayers out there who cannot get over the fact that this isn’t the same band that recorded “Pronounced ‘Leh-‘nérd ‘Skin-‘nérd” & “Second Helping” then those albums are always readily available for you to listen to at any time, but if you are willing to embrace the current line-up and hear those songs played with a bit more oomph and clarity than the 40-year-old studio versions, along with gorgeous HD visuals that really put you in front of the stage, then there is just as much joy to be had from this excellent live package as there is from those original recordings.