Lynyrd Skynyrd / Status Quo / Massive Wagons (Manchester 2019)

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Lynyrd Skynyrd / Status Quo / Massive Wagons - Manchester Arena, Manchester (UK) - 27 June 2019

UK summertime arrived at last as the 'Last Of The Street Survivors Farewell Tour' rolled into Manchester. As I entered the Arena I was pleasantly surprised at the size of the crowd already in attendance for opening act Massive Wagons. The opening to Slade's 'Rock 'n' Roll Preacher' heralded the band from Lancaster, which was rather apt as that is who they most remind me of, particularly singer Baz Mills. It's great when a band finally gets the opportunity to play in front of an arena-size crowd, and the Wagons took full advantage of their good fortune (and hard work) and delivered a fantastic thirty-minute set that should have gained them a whole host of new fans. Highlights were the infectious 'Ratio' and 'Back To The Stack' dedicated to the sadly departed Rick Parfitt.

I had hoped that when Skynyrd announced their farewell tour they would have brought fellow Southern Rock band 38 Special, but alas, it was only the UK's perennial three-chord maestros Status Quo. I have never really forgiven the Quo for playing 'The End Of The Road' gig at Milton Keynes back in 1984 only to keep returning (again and again and again...) as a parody of their former selves. This was more the 'Fickle Five' than the 'Frantic Four', although, to put in perspective, I was definitely in the minority, as most of the Skynyrd faithful seemed to enjoy their set, particularly the older classics. Closing numbers 'Down, Down', 'Whatever You Want' and 'Rockin' All Over The World' certainly warmed up the crowd for the main event.

A full rendition of AC/DC's 'Thunderstruck' blasted over the PA before the legends that are Lynyrd Skynyrd entered the stage to a rapturous ovation. Wasting no time, they opened with 'Workin' For MCA' with the large semi-circle video backdrop displaying an old vinyl record playing. The aforementioned video backdrop was used throughout, with a mixture of images, including close-ups of the current band members on stage and dearly beloved past members. Tonight's setlist, as expected for a farewell tour, was packed with classics from throughout the band's illustrious career and was almost perfect; personally I would have exchanged second song 'Skynyrd Nation' for the brilliant and poignant 'Still Unbroken', but the latter was only a very minor disappointment.

The Skynyrd diehards (I doubt there were many in attendance seeing the band for the first time) lapped up every track. 'What's Your Name', 'That Smell', 'I Know A Little' and 'The Needle And The Spoon'; every song was greeted with a fantastic reaction. To my ears all Skynyrd songs are certified classics, but in the live arena they take on a whole new energy level. Even the political 'Red, White & Blue', dedicated to the troops on both sides of the Atlantic, drew a very positive response from an audience that has lost all faith in British politics. For a couple of hours the Northern city of Manchester was happy to be Southern.

My friend (and fellow Fireworks contributor) Mick was in seventh heaven when they started to play 'The Ballad Of Curtis Loew'. The already incredible atmosphere went up a notch with the awesome 'Tuesday's Gone', and then went through the roof with 'Simple Man'. The latter, dedicated to "all the mommas", is always a highlight of a Skynyrd concert, but tonight (possibly as it would be last time we would ever hear it performed live by Jacksonville, Florida's finest) it just seemed extra special. It was one of those songs that had the hairs, not only on my back, stood on end, but also my legs, together with shivers running down my spine. I looked around at the audience at the end of the number and there were more than a few grown men wiping tears from their eyes. You would think it was almost impossible to follow that, but the one-two of the Honky-Tonk, tongue-in-cheek 'Gimme Three Steps' and the superb cover of JJ Cale's 'Call Me The Breeze' kept up the momentum.

The affable singer Johnny Van Zant introduced Damn Yankee drummer Michael Cartellone (looking remarkably like ex-Arsenal footballer "Champagne" Charlie Nicholas these days); then the intro to 'Sweet Home Alabama' saw those not already on their feet rise in unison. These are the moments that make going to these arena-size shows worth the effort. The atmosphere within the MEN was by now at fever-pitch as the band briefly left the stage. No worries as we all knew what was coming, cue Ronnie Van Zant introducing 'Free Bird'; the fan participation during the final fifteen minutes was simply off the scale.

If you never got the opportunity to witness Lynyrd Skynyrd live, then you really missed one of the all-time greats. Thanks to the original "Street Survivors", the legend and legacy of Southern Rock's finest band will live on forever.

Review and photos by Mark Donnelly

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