Lynyrd Skynyrd’s legacy in 2022 is defined as much by death as it is the everlasting life of the music, as 10 members, original or otherwise, have died since the group’s inception in 1964. That fact was solidified on Saturday night when the names of the departed were shown on screen near the end of the southern rock pioneers’ performance at Seneca Niagara Resort & Casino. It was a moment of reverence for both the performers and the fans in attendance, because we all recognized just how fortunate we were to be there celebrating what is often referred to as “the unluckiest band in history.”
Rock ‘n’ roll is a war of attrition and these guys have been fighting the good fight as well as any since officially reuniting back in 1987. While the last few albums don’t get the attention they deserve, hearing the current three guitar army of Rickey Medlocke, Mark Matejka, and Damon Johnson tear through the material from the first five in a live setting remains a must-see for anyone interested. Highlights from the set’s first half included “Workin’ for MCA,” “The Needle and the Spoon,” and a snarling “Saturday Night Special” that lived up to the studio version note for note.
Vocalist Johnny Van Zant shined in the second half on “Mississippi Kid,” “Red, White, and Blue (Love It or Leave),” and “Tuesday’s Gone,” the last of which has always been my favorite from the catalog. He’s spent the last 35 years honoring his brother on the biggest stages yet still comes across as the same down-to-earth guy from Jacksonville he’s always been, so, every time he said “God Bless America” or “God Bless Canada” during the show, he wasn’t being anything but true to himself. “Simple Man” also found his voice in fine form, although the band itself delivered a mellowed out take in which the guitar parts didn’t hit quite as hard as I wanted them to at times.
“Sweet Home Alabama” ranks up there with “Smoke on the Water” and “Rock and Roll” as a classic rock staple that I never need to hear again, but the crowd loved it and took Van Zant up on his invitation to sing the chorus back to him as loud as they could. While “Free Bird” closed out the evening on a high with its smoking guitar outro, the decision to include a video of Ronnie singing as the band played live was an odd one that may have caught people by surprise if they weren’t paying attention.
Would I have liked to hear “I Ain’t the One” or “Gimme Back My Bullets” instead of some others? Sure, but, for being my first time seeing them, Skynyrd didn’t disappoint.