Living rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd packed the Westbury roundhouse on Thursday night, rocking their Long Island audience with over a dozen classic favorites that climaxed, as always, with the epic Free Bird.
The modern incarnation of Lynyrd Skynyrd continues to be one of the hardest touring acts around, and the Jacksonville boys just finished a tour with Bad Company a few short weeks ago (read about their final show at Bethel Woods here). But of all the theaters, sheds and ballrooms the band plays, none are as uniquely intimate as the NYCB Theatre.
With a rotating stage that swiveled a full 360 degrees, there wasn’t a bad seat in the house last night. Every single ticketholder got plenty of chances for a perfect view of Johnny, Rickey, Gary and the rest of the Skynyrd crew bouncing their way through Call Me The Breeze and Gimme Back My Bullets as the show kicked off strong from the start.
The seven man (and two woman) band all crammed onto the small stage, surrounded by cheering Long Islanders. A Strong Island t-shirt was thrown onto the stage midway through the show, and Johnny held it high for everyone to see as Rickey and Gary’s twin guitars dueled behind him.
Fans sang along for the entire show, but especially during Simple Man, which Johnny dedicated to the troops. Followed by the ultra-rare Mississippi Kid, a deeper cut from the band’s debut album which has rarely been played live, a campfire atmosphere then settled over the theater for Tuesday’s Gone, a super mellow favorite for outdoor keggers and all-night parties.
Beers were hoisted high into the air for Sweet Home Alabama, and virtually the entire audience were on their feet and dancing to the radio staple. Fans took advantage of open aisles to move up closer to the band while finishing their drinks, and then... it was Free Bird time.
Is any song more of a definitive concert-closer than Free Bird? Perhaps Comfortably Numb and its equally epic outro solo, but that’s rare company for any band to keep. The cheers and screams of “Free Bird!” almost overpowered the band’s PA system as Johnny rhetorically asked the crowd, “What song is it you wanna hear?”
If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times; a Lynyrd Skynyrd ticket is worth the full price just for Free Bird alone. The entire band jammed slowly through the first half of the song, piano notes chiming over the rhythm guitars, dragging out the heartbreaker until the energy in the air was ready to explode. Then Rickey Medlocke crunched down on his Gibson Explorer and shredded like a man possessed as the crowd went absolutely wild for the double-tapping, fret-shredding, ear-splitting guitar solo.
There’s no way to tell how long the night’s encore went on for - when you’re in the Free Bird zone, time has no meaning outside of the hammering notes trading off between the band’s three guitarists. But when it was all finally over, and Johnny & friends waved goodbye as they walked off stage, fist-pumping audience members could still be heard screaming “Play it again!”
With last night’s show, Lynyrd Skynyrd are done - for now - with the NYC region, although fans can catch them in Syracuse at the New York State Fair on August 26th. Fear not, though, because not plane crashes nor old age and not even Neil Young can keep this band from keeping the southern spirit of rock n’ roll alive and kicking, and it’s only nine or ten more months until the 2014 summer concert season!
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