With a repertoire spanning 25 live and studio albums over 55 years and several band iterations, Lynyrd Skynyrd had no shortage of tracks to call on during the Manchester leg of their ‘Last of the Street Survivors’ Farewell Tour.
Bringing their mix of Nashville meets blues meets hard rock to a sellout crowd in the Manchester Arena, Skynyrd prepared their opening to a backing track of ‘Thunderstruck’ by AC/DC. As these lyrics faded, a video reel played, showcasing many of the album covers the band had released over the years.‘ As this video played, the band entered the stage and opened as they often do, with ‘Workin’ for MCA’. The solid, familiar blues riffs had the Arena on their feet from track one and this was followed by the popular ‘Skynyrd Nation’, with frontman Johnny Van Zant encouraging the crowd to join in and sing along. No second request was required and right from the start, the band were showing how they have stood the test of time, as the set continued with a step back to the appropriately named 1977 album ‘Street Survivors’, with the country rock inspired ‘What’s your name’, ‘That Smell’ and ‘I know a little’.
Next, it was another step back to the early days, with ‘The needle and the spoon’, whose opening country style riff and solid bass line make this an enduring favourite of Skynyrd fans the world over. ‘Saturday Night Special’ with its steady rock riffs preceded the fiercely patriotic ‘Red, White & Blue’, which culminated in a huge graphic over the stage of a combination of the Stars and Stripes with the Union Flag, overlaid with some impressive closing slide guitar. This was met with rapturous applause – politics very firmly not on the agenda – purely an appreciation of the inspiration and values of the band.
‘The Ballad of Curtis Loew’, which has featured on several compilation and ‘best of’ albums, displayed some impressive blues picking that Loew himself would be proud of, a hat tip to the ‘Second Helping’ album, whose inspiration formed a large part of this show. Things slowed down a little with ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, but the tempo returned with the rousing opening to ‘Don’t ask me no questions’, a thinly veiled sideswipe at those who placed too many demands on a band who in their early days, just wanted to be left alone.
Next up, in another display of the band’s humility and values, was ‘Simple Man’, one of Skynyrd’s most popular songs, coming third only to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ and ‘Free Bird’ in the band’s most downloaded tracks. This touching tribute to Van Zant’s mother had the arena on its feet; it’s heartfelt lyrics no doubt striking a chord with many in the audience.
‘Gimme Three Steps’, with its very recognizable opening riff did not allow the arena to sit down, its toe-tapping, head-bobbing melody a huge favourite in the room. With its catchy rhythm and flamboyant piano the audience was in full swing – fitting, as this vein continued with ‘Call me the Breeze’, another much loved Skynyrd classic, with an instantly recognizable introduction and infectious melody.
Next up was ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, well and truly at the business end of Skynyrd’s popularity and one of their best-loved songs. The seats were getting cold by this time.
But of course, no Lynyrd Skynyrd concert would be complete without their signature and best-known song ‘Free Bird’. Following a short break at the end of ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, the crowd knew exactly what was coming next. ‘Free Bird’ opened with an impressive piano introduction and following the first verse, an archive video of the early band playing live was played and accompanied by the band on stage. In a very touching tribute to his late brother Ronnie, Johnny Van Zant allowed his brother’s vocals to belt out the second verse. But it wasn’t just the band singing at this time, as the arena was in full voice – every word, note and intonation known by heart. The impressive light show made the extended instrumental an absolute pleasure to watch and in a further tribute to the original band, a video reel displaying the names of all band members was played, showing the current right back to the founding members.
The ‘Last of the Street Survivors’ Farewell Tour is intended to be the final one, but how many bands have said this before, only to have a farewell, then a final tour? Then a comeback Tour? Whilst holding on to the hope that it isn’t over ‘til it’s over, the UK is and will always remain, a Skynyrd Nation.
Review by Gary Caldwell