Review and Photo Copyright © Mark Ellis
Since the early 70’s Lynyrd Skynyrd have re-defined the Southern Rock genre and made it their own. They have become the blueprint for 40 plus years of great live music from bands all over the world. Tonight it was the turn of Manchester to experience this phenomena for one last time as the “Last of the Street Survivors” Tour rolled into town.
Opening the show, Lancashire’s finest, the mighty Massive Wagons. The buzz surrounding the addition of one of the leaders of the New Wave of Classic Rock has been huge, and indeed their fans turned out in force, judging by the number of Wagons t-shirts on display and the fact that the MEN was a good ⅔ full for a 7 o’clock start. They hit the stage, just like they always do, strong, confident and full of life. Baz declares that this was almost a homecoming gig for them, it’s certainly one of the biggest venues they have ever performed in. They gave their all, blew the roof of the arena and were the winner of the support slots by a country mile.
After a very short interlude the indomitable Status Quo hit the stage. They didn’t have to win the audience over, after all everybody loves a bit of the old Quo. This was the first time I had seen Quo since the sad passing of guitarist Rick Parfitt and whilst Richie Malone has stepped in and made the slot his own, the band seemed a little flat. Obviously this is Status Quo and the band are as tight as they have ever been. The set list tonight included some tracks from their upcoming release “Backbone” and Malone’s fresh influence on Francis Rossi can clearly be heard, with these songs being the highlight of their set for me. But saying that “the Quo” are always a great band to have on any live bill.
As the final chords of AC/DC’s thunderstruck rang out around the arena it was lights out and the “Skynyrd Nation” greeted their hero’s “Lynyrd F**** Skynyrd” (seen on t-shirts all over Manchester) The fact that this band are still on stage and playing arena sized venues is a testament to their determination to keep going in the face of all adversity. Taking up the mantle of lead singer after the death of his brother Ronnie in 1977, Johnny Van Zant has not only led the band onto more stages across the years than many could have ever imagined. He does this with a passion for the bands music that seeps down into the audience from the moment he launches into opener “Workin for MCA”.
The setlist for this tour, of course, focuses on the big hits and most of those come from their first 2 albums. Crowd pleasers each and every one, “Whats Your Name”, “That Smell” “Saturday Night Special” the hits just keep coming. Whilst his heart bypass operation has clearly slowed down founder member Gary Rossington, his playing is as good as ever and as a tribute to the Skynyrd of old the three guitarists (Gary Rossington, Ricky Medlocke and Mark Matejka) still thrill the audience by lining up and hammering out the riffs.
The set builds nicely to the iconic “Simple Man” which Johnny dedicates to all mothers and their band members past and present. Its at this point that the things really hot up with an incredible extended energetic version of JJ Cale’s Call Me the Breeze. The crowd go absolutely wild and are set up perfectly for “Sweet Home Alabama” .. we are in Manchester but that makes no difference, the whole audience sing along with the band and no finer ending of a concert will you ever see. But wait they’ve not played ..
Yes “Free Bird” is the encore .. all 15 plus minutes of possibly the most iconic guitar(s) solo of all time. Johnny starts us off, but soon the stage is left with a solitary mic stand, adorned with a southern flag and cowboy hat, as his brother appears on a screen behind the band and they play along with his vocal. Johnny can be seen just off the stage looking up at his brother as the band launch into the triple guitar solo.. A truly touching moment. It is not that often that you see no-one leaving the auditorium during the encore and tonight was one of those moments. A tribute to one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll bands to have ever graced the stage.