Lynyrd Skynyrd – Live At Knebworth ’76 (Eagle Rock Entertainment)
Double vinyl with DVD
Can it really be 45 years since the greatest Southern rock band of all time wowed a capacity crowd at Knebworth on a bill featuring Todd Rundgren, 10cc and headliners The Rolling Stones?
The summer of 1976 might be remembered as one of the hottest on record.
But Lynyrd Skynyrd turned up the heat another notch on what went down as one of the greatest rock and roll shows of the decade.
And this double vinyl set showcases Van Zant, Rossington, Pyle, Powell et al at their scorching best.
Fourteen months later and Van Zant and guitarist Steve Gaines had perished in the infamous plane crash that changed Skynyrd’s course forever.
As such, this 11-song set captures a magical moment in time when it seemed nothing could stop the meteoric rise of Jacksonville’s finest.
Lynyrd Skynyrd Thrill Knebworth’s Thousands
It’s estimated that as many as 200,000 fans flocked to Knebworth on August 21 to catch a bill boasting some of the best rock and roll talent on the planet.
And if the majority had rolled up to pay homage to Mick Jagger’s headliners then this was a golden opportunity for Skynyrd to prove they truly belonged at live music’s top table.
Visually fascinating — seven band members and three backing singers packed the stage — and boasting a slew of made-to-measure festival anthems, this was a show that demanded attention from start to finish.
Sure, the vaguely interested onlookers might have been waiting for Skynyrd standards Sweet Home Alabama and Free Bird.
But by the time the Floridians were four songs in it was abundantly clear that this was a band with so much more than a brace of big hits in their locker.
Ronnie Van Zant Workin’ The Crowd
Opener Workin’ For MCA might not have been the most obvious choice to kick things off.
But it had worked a treat for the band back home the previous month as they recorded the three concerts that went to underpin One More For The Road.
In fact, bar a bit of tweaking here and there, the Knebworth setlist leans heavily on the tracklist that would define the band’s legendary live album — released just four weeks after their trip to the UK.
Van Zant shines on Saturday Night Special and by the time you flip to side B this is a frontman and a band in full swing.
Ably assisted by backing singers the Honkettes (Cassie Gaines also passed away in the ’77 accident), Skynyrd needed no time at all to hit their stride.
Gimme Three Steps is a hugely endearing mid-set highlight and the understated cool underpinning Call Me The Breeze screams classic Southern rock.
Home Free With Free Bird
Disc two is devoted to just three songs. Side C features the live favourite T For Texas and Skynyrd’s take on the Jimmie Rodgers tune is simply sublime.
Then there’s Sweet Home Alabama — the final track of side B on the original double LP version of One More For The Road but wisely reserved until late in the day at Knebworth.
There are guaranteed festival favourites. And then there’s Sweet Home Alabama.
Van Zant, the band’s triple-threat guitar attack, Powell’s keys and the raucous Honkettes combine to deliver a magical version of a timeless classic. Somehow it sounds even better on heavyweight wax.
Fittingly, Free Bird gets side D all to itself.
So drop the needle, sit back, pour yourself a neat Bourbon and enjoy one of the most evocative songs the 70s ever produced.
It’s testimony to Skynyrd’s songwriting craft that Free Bird still sounds fresh hundreds and thousands of spins later.
In front of the Knebworth masses, Van Zant’s lazy, hazy vocal and that mournful, meandering solo must be heard to be believed.
They say less is more. Clearly they never listened to Free Bird in all of its Southern rock glory.