Spine-tingling guitar solos light up Lynyrd Skynyrd’s first-ever Vancouver show

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 4, 1997

By Steve Newton

Those ’70s-rock fans sure are a devoted bunch. Even if one of their fave old bands hasn’t produced a hit in two decades, they’ll stick with it and flock to its concerts to hold Bic lighters on high and relive the halcyon days of 8-tracks, mag wheels, and flared pants. Take the recent Supertramp gig, when a nearly full house packed GM Place to hear those baggy-eyed Brits, even without musical mastermind Roger Hodgson at the helm. Then there’s the mid-’70s edition of Fleetwood Mac, which produced all of two exceptional albums (Fleetwood Mac and Rumours) yet is expected to sell out the 26,000-seat Tacoma Dome in October.

Fans of Lynyrd Skynyrd are a faithful bunch as well, and several thousand of them showed up at the Coliseum last Thursday (August 28) to hear the veteran guitar band perform, 20 years after the plane crash that killed original vocalist Ronnie Van Zant and then-new guitarist Steve Gaines. Some of the crowd might also have been there to see ’70s survivor Paul Rodgers, who opened the show with “Can’t Get Enough”, the first hit from his second hit band, Bad Company.

“I’ve got a question for you,” proclaimed Rodgers, still looking good in his trademark vest-over-hairy-chest outfit. “Do you feel like making love?” Many in attendance voiced their enthusiasm for that idea, so Rodgers led his crack guitar-bass-drums unit in the Grammy-winning Bad Co. tune “Feel Like Makin’ Love”. The still-powerful blues-rock crooner ended his 10-song set with another lusty number, “All Right Now”, during which the crowd sang the chorus more than he did.

Next up was 20-year-old guitar wizard Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who obviously doesn’t remember much of the ’70s himself, though you couldn’t tell that from his masterful re-creations of the Jimi Hendrix experience. His set was highlighted by an extended rendition of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” that drew comparisons to the live version by Shepherd’s main influence, Stevie Ray Vaughan. His inspired performance bodes well for his impending return to Vancouver with Joe Satriani and Steve Vai in the G-3 show this month, though a few fans were no doubt surprised or disappointed to discover that the blond bombshell doesn’t actually sing his own songs.

Anticipation was high by the time Lynyrd Skynyrd hit the stage for its first-ever Vancouver appearance, and when the curtains parted to reveal the seven-member band in all its good-ol’-boy glory, the crowd went nuts. The group commenced by giving the assembled Canuck butts a long-overdue, three-guitar spanking via “With These Hands”, the first track on its latest CD, Twenty, and followed that with “Saturday Night Special”, the stirring antigun tune first heard in Burt Reynolds’s 1974 football-in-prison flick, The Longest Yard. From that point on, the night belonged to Messrs Gibson, Fender, and Peavey, and—coming just six nights after John Fogerty’s Orpheum trip to swamp-rock heaven—it was almost too good to be true.

Johnnie Van Zant—who gave the downed band a second chance to fly when he became Skynyrd’s vocalist in ’87—looks, sounds, and even acts like his late bro onstage. By recruiting such stalwart southern-rock guitarists as Rickey Medlocke and Hughie Thomasson to accompany original guitarist Gary Rossington, the group has ensured that its patented triple-lead approach lives up to previous standards. When I heard the soaring solos of the band’s prophetic antidrug opus, “That Smell”, I experienced the same spine-tingling chill that song elicited from me in the ’70s.

Even a jolting postshow ride on the PNE’s rickety roller coaster couldn’t duplicate that exquisite rush.

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