The "Rock N Roll Jesus" himself/photos by Mark C. Austin
Maybe the Texas heat and August humidity has finally sent me around the bend for good, but "All Summer Long," as Kid Rock would say, I've been in the throes of the biggest case of classic-rock fever I've ever had. I thought it would finally break after overloading my sensory circuits at Journey and Heart a couple weeks back, but that didn't work. Both bands were excellent, so far exceeding my modest expectations that if anything, my condition grew worse than ever.
But then again, maybe Journey and Heart - who sounded especially feral and hungry on songs like "Magic Man," "Straight On To You" and a majestic cover of the Who's "Love, Reign O'er Me" - weren't classic-rock enough to break this little spell. The one, the only Lynyrd Skynyrd and its No. 1 contemporary disciple, Kid Rock, ought to finally cast out those denim-clad demons like The Exorcist. Or would they?
For most of these people, Saturday night was special indeed. Click here for a slideshow.
Opening, appropriately enough, with "Saturday Night Special," Skynyrd hit all the expected Southern-rock touchstones with the precision and familiarity of a group that's been recording and (much more importantly) touring constantly since reuniting in 1987. Pianist Billy Powell, clad in Elvis glasses and installed behind his white baby grand on a revolving platform at stage right - lent some robust licks to "What's Your Name" and brought a barrelhouse '50s-rock feel to J.J. Cale's "Call Me the Breeze."
With only about 75 minutes of stage time - and 15 of that, of course, reserved for the "Free Bird" encore - Skynyrd didn't have time to mine its catalog for very many deep cuts, but it was nice to hear the group pull out "You Got That Right" from 1977's recently reissued Street Survivors, with a soul-fired performance that was Muscle Shoals to the hilt. At Skynyrd's helm since 1987, Johnny Van Zandt, younger brother of Skynyrd founder/songwriter Ronnie Van Zant, made a wry master of ceremonies, introducing pre-rehab cautionary tale "That Smell" with "We've been there, done that, never going back again."
Van Zant was also smart enough to know when to stand aside for the real reason enough people showed up Saturday night to make this the Woodlands' second sold-out classic-rock show in a row: the Three! Guitar! Action! of original member Gary Rossington, the Van Zandts' childhood friend Ricky Medlocke (who also fronts Jacksonville's second-best Southern rock band, Blackfoot) and double-duty bassist Ean Evans.
Half of Skynyrd's deadly axe double-team, Ricky "Darkhorse" Medlocke, flanks singer Johnny Van Zant (in rebel-flag vest).
Suffice to say they didn't disappoint, whether on pristine ballad "Simple Man," the swampy, swampy, swampy "Gimme Back My Bullets" or a raucous "Gimme Three Steps" - which drove all the ladies there crazy, and sounded oddly like Elton John's "Saturday Night's All Right for Fighting."
Naturally, it was all a prelude to the night's final two songs, which you can probably guess. "I do believe it's time for the South to rise again," Van Zant told the enthusiastic audience before a juked-up "Sweet Home Alabama," and by the time the final stampeding notes of "Free Bird" - which, live, cemented its status in my mind as the "Stairway to Heaven" of the South - faded away into the crowd's deafening cheers, there wasn't a soul there who didn't believe it didn't do just that. Then Skynyrd left the stage to the Andy Griffith Show theme music. God, I love the South.
Skynyrd left honorary Southerner Kid Rock with quite an act to follow, but he didn't seem too worried about it. Uppercase Rock doesn't get enough credit for being one of lowercase rock's most progressive thinkers on the environmental front - nobody can recycle quite like he does. By the Detroit player's third song, the Metallica-biting "American Bad Ass," he he and his Twisted Brown Trucker Band had turned both the seated areas and lawn into a sea of hands; then, after T. Rexish new song "Low Life," he took things to an entirely new level of delirium with current smash "All Summer Long," which does nothing more (or less) than rewrite the lyrics to "Sweet Home Alabama."
After an unfamiliar song that used the familiar "Amen" gospel refrain for an introduction - I was definitely praying for the people behind us, who drove down from Lufkin for the show, and were great believers in the laying on of hands - Rock continued his Southern-rock survey course by breaking into the Allman Brothers' "Midnight Rider," which turned into his 1999 hit "Cowboy," which itself turned into Waylon Jennings' Dukes of Hazzard theme song (good night for Southern TV shows), "American Bad Ass" again and back into "Cowboy" for a volcanic coda. By the end of the song, the only word that appropriately described the crowd's mood was "apeshit."
Rock brings it down for a honky-tonk interlude.
"Since we're in Texas, I think it's time we did a little honky-tonkin'," he said, introducing "Me and My Guitar," which turned out to be as country as biscuits and gravy. The jukier "Half Your Age, Twice as Hot" brought Rock's longtime drummer Stephanie Eulinburg out from behind the kit for a fiesty duet not far removed from Conway & Loretta. A moving "Only God Knows Why" (dedicated to U.S. servicemen and women, some of whom were depicted on the video-screen montage) closed out the honky-tonk portion of the set - until a Sheryl Crow dead ringer named Stacy Michelle (see comment below) walked out to duet on "Picture" a little later on - but Rock had one more ace up his sleeve.
Suddenly, he was wearing a fat gold dookie chain and exhorting the crowd to give it up for buddy and Run-DMC founder Reverend Run, who strode out in his own T-shirt and trademark fedora for an extended, Rock-assisted medley of the Hollis, Queens, rap icons' greatest hits. It wasn't a complete surprise, as Run was advertised as part of the bill, but Run and Rock's enthuiasm seemed to win over even the rap-haters in the crowd; everybody I saw was dancing and swaying along with grins as big as all outdoors on their faces as "It's Like That," "It's Tricky," "You Be Illin'" (loved the Coasters-like saxophone on that one), "King of Rock" and "Walk This Way" (from my notebook: "Everybody up front has LOST IT") flew by one after the next.
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"Is anybody here ready to party? Just asking..."
Everything after that, even the faux Crow cameo, was anticlimactic, and admittedly a little fuzzy. (Yes, I was partying as hard as my neighbors, including the guy behind me who "just got out of prison.") Rock closed by giving Eulinburg a break, playing drums for a bunch of covers, including ZZ Top's "La Grange," Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water" and Ted Nugent's "Cat Scratch Fever." So as you may have guessed by now, Saturday night did absolutely nothing to lessen my case of classic-rock fever, though I suppose it's kind of ironic one of the parties responsible is Rev. Run.
Now it's up to Tom Petty to finally boot me out of this little phase at the end of the month, but somehow I think he's not going to be entirely helpful either. - Chris Gray