There’s something incredibly poignant about watching Rickey Medlocke and Gary Rossington flank Johnny Van Zant as the centerpiece of a Lynyrd Skynyrd live show.
It’s a moving sight that could sell millions of tickets the world over given the tragic history of these Southern Rock legends and the insatiable demand for their enduring legacy.
Yet Skynyrd steadfastly refuse to trade on the past, neither allowing blind emotion or grating sentiment to undermine their incendiary live shows.
Entirely right to recognise who they are and where they’ve come from, the primary focus is, nevertheless, on celebrating some of the finest rock songs ever penned rather than dwelling on the years of pain.
Indeed, if time really is a great healer then Skynyrd are the epitome of a family fully recovered from the deepest of emotional wounds – rarely has a band appeared to enjoy a show so much.
The pleasure in the eyes of Medlocke and Rossington, in particular, sparked a frenzied reaction from the sell-out crowd. This was a night when inhibitions went out of the window and legions of Skynyrd fans (many of whom were old enough to know better) took Medlocke’s wacky lead and lived every minute of a magical gig like it was their last.
The 62-year-old guitar hero looks like a wayward extra from Game Of Thrones, behaves like a kid a quarter of his age and appears to have the energy of a tantrum-fuelled toddler. Add to his bizarre manner a manic playing style and Medlocke alone could hold the crowd in the palm of his hand.
But this a band boasting the weird and wonderful at every turn. Drummer Michael Cartellone clearly carries his hair in a box dated 1987 and tinkler Peter Keys looks like a circus ringmaster in between jobs. Robbie Savage lookalike Mark Matejka plays better than he thinks he looks and Van Zant is a pocket rocket of pure Southern fizz.
But what of Rossington? His stern expression, understated style and workmanlike approach goes against the flamboyance of his colourful colleagues to create a fascinating juxtaposition. As the only founder member on show perhaps he feels a unique respect for absent friends or perhaps he’s simply feeling the strain almost 50 years down the line.
What all seven members share – in common with backing singers Dale Krantz-Rossington and Carol Chase – is an acute appreciation of the very best in Southern Rock. That Smell, Gimme Back My Bullets and the stunning Simple Man resonated with fans of three generations and made for a quite wonderful night’s entertainment.
This was better than any Christmas party you’ll have the pleasure of attending in the next six weeks and the presents came thick and fast. What’s Your Name was raucous while the title track from Skynyrd’s latest album Last Of A Dyin’ Breed kicked things off in foot-stomping style.
The one-two of Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird – the latter showcasing Medlocke at his most manic – proved a dream finale on a fabulous night. If Skynyrd really are the last of a dying breed they must become a protected species: rock like this must live forever.