CONCORD — It didn’t matter to the large crowd that packed the Concord Pavilion that Southern rockers Lynyrd Skynyrd have just one original band member remaining. Bay Area fans came out to say goodbye to the band, currently approaching the end of its Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour, and the band rewarded them with just about all of the hits anyone would want to hear.
There was some uncertainty initially whether the show would go on at all, as Gary Rossington, the lone remaining founding member, had to undergo a heart procedure on July 31 after being diagnosed with was was called a leaky valve. Two shows were postponed, and the Concord performance was just the second after his recovery. For his part, Rossington performed admirably, handling lead on several songs and taking advantage of the many opportunities to jam with his bandmates, who include guitarist Rickey Medlocke (since 1971), frontman Johnny Van Zant (since ’87; the younger brother of band cofounder Ronnie Van Zant), drummer Michael Cartellone (since ’99), guitarist Mark Matejka (since 2006), show-stopping pianist Peter Keys and bassist Keith Christopher (who just joined in 2017).
The show served as a farewell, a reminder of everything Lynyrd Skynyrd had accomplished in its career—which was derailed by a 1977 plane crash that claimed the lives of Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines and several others at a time when the band was at the peak of its success—and a tribute to the numerous members of the band who have also passed away over the years.
The performance focused on the band’s early years; through 1977. The group, aided by two backup singers, opened with “Workin’ for MCA” before playing the lone newer song: 2009’s “Skynyrd Nation,” a messy, raucous bar singalong. From there, the pace picked up even more, with classic rock staples “What’s Your Name,” “That Smell” and “I Know a Little.” The crowd, at times, overpowered Van Zant on the middle song while the three guitarists and bassist swayed in unison, side by side.
Prior to “I Know a Little,” the frontman paid a tribute to the Bay Area’s role in the band’s ascension.
“We had a manager one time from San Francisco. His name was Bill Graham,” he said. “So we’d like to dedicate this show to Bill Graham.”
The song was an early highlight in the set, with Matejka climbing up and down the scales of the blues boogie. It was followed by more well-known hits like “The Needle and the Spoon” and “Saturday Night Special”—both of which had no shortage of jamming—and ballad “Tuesday’s Gone.” It was the first time the band members had a chance to catch their breaths. Rossington’s solo brought an extra dramatic flair to the tune, a sort of proto-“November Rain.” If this was a younger band, it would have been the sort of moment where cell phone flashlight apps were turned on. But this was Lynyrd Skynyrd, so everyone still had actual lighters topping the candles of their outstretched arms.
Following “Don’t Ask Me No Questions” came what was likely meant as a joke that didn’t hit so well: Van Zant dedicated the ballad “Simple Man” to veterans and their families—straightforward enough—and then made it political.
“Whether you’re a Democrat or a Repub—” he stopped himself as a sigh or grumble registered from the crowd closest to the stage. “Conservative? Independent. That’s it.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd brought the show home with the rollicking “Gimme Three Steps” and its famous cover of the JJ Cale blues rock standard “Call Me the Breeze,” the massive singalong “Sweet Home Alabama,” and an encore that consisted solely of “Free Bird,” which covered more ground than most bands accomplish over the course of an entire concert. The frontman ceded the spotlight entirely after the first verse, letting a video of his older brother carry the building song to its blistering second half.
The next transitioned to the grinding “I Thank You” (a Sam & Dave cover they’ve been playing for years) as photographs of the band’s early years scrolled on a screen behind them, and two old-school blues cuts: “Waiting’ for the Bus” and “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” There was some fun interplay and glances between the guitarist and bassist on “Gimme All Your Lovin'” and “Pearl Necklace.”
“I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide” got the crowd to sing along with the chorus and featured ZZ Top’s signature blend of crunchy and squelchy jamming, as well as dueling solos.
“Time to slow it down and get boozy with you,” Gibbons said as an introduction to “I Gotsta Get Paid.” It was one of the few times he addressed the crowd. Following a few more cuts that included the galloping “My Head’s in Mississippi” and the fun riffing and scale climbing of “Just Got Paid,” ZZ Top closed with a power block of “Sharp Dressed Man,” “Legs,” “La Grange” and “Tush,” during which a stagehand placed a thick blunt into Gibbons’ mouth and lit it.
Fun fact: Did you know that ZZ Top’s best-known song, “La Grange,” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” were released the same year?
Alabama singer-songwriter Austin Hanks opened the show with a set of tunes that blended blues rock and country. Hanks, a protege of Billy Gibbons set the mood early mid tempo honkey-tonk number “Let’s Go,” the scuzzy garage rock of “Take Out the Trash,” ballad “Delta Torches” and “Bone, Muscle & Blood,” on which his vocal twang was most present.