‘In the words of my older brother Ronnie Van Zant, which tune is it you want to hear tonight Dublin?’ FREEBIRD! No one could accuse Lynyrd Skynyrd of failing to put on a show, and the generation-spanning crowd that’s flocking to the O2 clearly knows exactly what to expect. The Luas ride features comic impersonations of Southern State accents, confederate flags flying through the window and an odd assortment of rustic straw hats. Inside the O2, the themed party is underway well before the blues rockers take to the stage: down in the pit, Skynyrd flags branded with -Southern By The Grace of God’ fly in all corners, while thousands bop in time to some good ol’ 70s rock.
When Skynyrd arrive, accompanied by a spooky cackle and two busty, clapping blondes better known as -The Honkettes’, they proceed to take us a on quick career spanning tour, stopping off at ‘That Smell’, ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, ‘What’s Your Name’ and emphatic opener ‘Skynyrd Nation’. There are nine members on stage in total, all clad in their traditional blue jeans and flicking around their rock and roll hairstyles like the 70s never left, while the guitarists strut and stomp and the pianist adds a sumptuous layer of underlying blues.
This is as much about the stage show as the tunes, though. Johnny Van Zant spends the evening swaggering about and flashing his stars and stripes, while the power chords emanating from his three guitarists add a melodramatic backdrop. The guitarists include the band’s one original member, Gary Rossington: the other two founding members from Jacksonville, 1964 both died in that infamous 1977 plane crash. In many cases, the passing of a legacy onto the younger brother – or anyone else for that matter – would be a subject of ample controversy (it did, in fact, lead to plenty of legal wranglings), but when what’s going on up on stage is so compelling it’s easy to put such complaints aside. In truth, Skynyrd’s newer material – particularly in the form of the impressive title track to their latest album, God and Guns – is every bit as good as the old classics, and actually surpasses some of the lesser known old-school moments.
The closing minutes are predictable yet brilliant: Van Zant struts and pumps up the crowd, who scream back a shivers-down-the-spine version of worldwide smash ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, ending with Johnny wondering from the stage while the closing chords still pound our ears. On Skynyrd’s return, that renowned ‘Freebird’ line comes out, followed by an epic ten-minute rendition of the fans’ favorite. It features all four string players lined up along the stage front and walking a merry, rocking dance from one extreme to the other, while Johnny delivers his lines, says goodnight and probably tucks into his first post-show whisky backstage before the end, though not before launching his flag-draped mike stand the length of the O2’s substantial stage. The closing chords build to a crescendo, the final blast on an otherwise subtle hit, before Skynyrd drift off to a lengthy standing ovation. For one night only, the O2 is a southern country bar, the audience are cowboys and old-school rock and roll is as fresh as it’s ever been.
Photos: Kieran Frost