Written by Mark McWhite
Most newly formed rock bands probably won’t last for 5 years much less 50 years. So, when ZZ TOP and LYNARD SKYNYRD came to Dickies Arena on July 29 on their Sharp Dressed Simple Man tour, they gave the audience a combined 100 plus years of rock music. These two powerhouse bands have endured the test of time both earning entrance to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, releasing over 40 albums combined and both rising to worldwide fame.
The show opened with the band UNCLE KRACKER led by Matthew Shafer who has been playing and touring for 24 years. Shafer was formally a turntablist for KID ROCK. They performed a short set including their hits “Follow Me” and “Drift Away” to get the crowd on their feet.
Then SKYNYRD packed the stage with 9 musicians. 4 guitars, one keyboard, a drummer, two backup singers, and Donnie Van Zant on lead vocals. Smoke filled the stage as Van Zant riled the Texas crowd with “Working for MCA”, “Skynyrd Nation” and “What’s Your Name”. Donnie persistently thanked the audience for their many years of support and continually expressed honor to the heritage of the band. SKYNYRDS guitar army stood shoulder to shoulder rocking back and forth (a classic Rock and Roll move) to highlight their skills and entertain their fans.
More hit songs like “That Smell”, “Saturday Night Special” and Tuesdays Gone brought back more memories of our youth to a mostly mature audience. (Think lots of grey hair and beards). Van Zant requested the house lights and then asked, “How many die hard LYNYRD SKYNYRD fans are here tonight”? The crowd responded. He asked “Can you sing? Then sing this one” as the hits continued.
The band honored Gary Rossington, an original SKYNYRD guitarist who passed away in March of this year with video and photos from the past 50 years. Donnie thanked our military troops and first responders by performing “Simple Man” followed by 3 mega hits “Gimme 3 Steps”, “The Breeze”, and “Sweet Home Alabama”. The production of their music mix and video presentation was awesome. The acoustics at Dickies Arena make it a great venue to hear live music as it was meant to be heard. The sound is crystal clear and not bouncing all over the place.
LYNYRD SKYNYRD closed their set with an encore of “FREEBIRD” which they dedicated to brother Ronnie Van Zant who died in a plane crash in 1977 along with 4 other members of the band. As a side note, I was at the last show that Ronnie performed in Greenville, SC on October 19, 1977. It was a great show as well. After the first verse of “Freebird,” the singer left the stage, and the vocal recordings of Ronnie were used to finish the tribute. The crowd showed their love to the band as SKYNYRD took a final bow. After a dynamic rock show, you don’t expect for it to happen again back-to-back…but it did.
The 3 members of ZZ TOP took the stage in all black outfits with silver sparkling shoes continuing their tradition of matching gear. Then they scrubbed off boogie rock hits “Got Me Under Pressure”, “I Thank You”, “Waitin’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago”. Billy Gibbons introduced the new bass player Elwood Francis who replaced recently deceased bassist Dusty Hill and then introduced drummer Frank Beard who ironically is the only member without a beard. Elwood, formally a guitar tech is a great fit for the band and showed off his bright-yellow 17 string bass guitar to open their set.
TOP continued the hit parade with “Gimme All Your Lovin”, ‘Pearl Necklace” and “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide”. Gibbons joked “It’s a good night for rock and roll. That’s why we’re going to play a country song” “Sixteen Tons”, along with “Just Got Paid” and chartbuster hits “Sharped Dressed Man” and “Legs” were next. Of course, they played their legendary fur guitars from the video of “Legs”.
The arena was rocking when ZZ TOP made a wardrobe change and came back to the stage for an encore dressed in red jackets and red sparkle shoes. “Brown Sugar”, “Tube Snake Boogie” and super hit “La Grange” closed out the night with bubble making machines blowing bubbles into the audience.
So that’s 124 combined years of hit songs and rock and roll experiences compressed into one awesome show. Rock fans are the best. They will support the bands they love forever. Rock on.