Splice Magazine

Licensed Publication of Splice Media Group

The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour Touches down at Pine Knob for a Saturday Night Special


ZZ Top performs at Pine Knob © John Swider

Clarkston,Michigan(August 26,2023)-When The Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour rolled into the Motor City, it was one night when you could yell for “Free Bird” and know you’d hear the song, performed by the original band, by design, albeit with a few new members since the original recording back in 1974.

That’s what happens at a Lynyrd Skynyrd concert, of course, and was what brought the Southern rock group’s show to a close on Saturday night, Aug. 26, at the Pine Knob Music Theatre. But “Free Bird” was also just part of a truly spectacular Saturday night classic rock special, the capper on a triple bill with ZZ Top and Uncle Kracker that offered a full evening of hits for the near sell-out crowd.

It also spoke volumes to the resilience of its co-headliners. Skynyrd, of course, came back from 1977 plane crash that killed three band members and has weathered the loss of other key players during the intervening years including co-founding guitarist Gary Rossington this past March. ZZ Top, meanwhile, is in its third summer since co-founding bassist Joe “Dusty” Hill passed away in 2021 and tabbed Hill’s guitar tech Elwood Francis as his very capable replacement. Yet both bands are sustaining and in some instanced growing their respective legacies with integrity, and on Saturday their twin 90-minute sets kept Pine Knob rocking to decades-old FM radio favorites that rank as nothing less than iconic.

Uncle Kracker did his part in that equation, too. Returning to his hometown after a recent move to Nashville, the Mount Clemens native’s half-hour onstage showcased a potent career since the 2001 release of his first solo album. Playing not only his own hits “Follow Me,” “Smile,” and a cover of Dobie Gray’s “Drift Away,” but also those he co-wrote Kid Rock’s “All Summer Long.” Kracker also worked through a super entertaining cut of  Kenny Chesney’s “When the Sun Goes Down,” which he also appeared on. There’s new music in the offing with his recently released single, “Sweet 16,” but Saturday Kracker set that up by relying on his past.

ZZ Top performs at Pine Knob © John Swider

ZZ Top meanwhile came out a blazing six-shooter  with “Got Me Under Pressure” with new bassist Elwood Francis brandishing his audacious 17-string bass and didn’t back down over the course of its 16-song set. Though the Hill-sung “Tush” has been retired, the Texas trio still had plenty of  songs to play  including MTV favorites “Gimme All Your Lovin’,” “Sharp Dressed Man” and “Legs,” each accompanied by their respective videos and the set closing “La Grange,” celebrating its 50th anniversary of its release this year. But the show’s real highlights came during bluesy deeper cuts such as “Waitin’ For the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “My Head’s In Mississippi,” “Just Got Paid” and Merle Travis’ “Sixteen Tons,” which let guitarist Billy Gibbons stretch out some searing solos and the group as a whole show off the intimate dynamics that remained as tight as a new Texas six-shooter.

Skynyrd, formed in 1964 as My Backyard before morphing into their current name in 1969, is celebrating its own golden anniversary this year, the release of the band’s debut album, “(Pronounced ‘Leh-nerd ‘Skin-nerd),” which was the foundation of  four of the 14 songs, including the most requested song in history “Free Bird,” that the nine-member outfit performed on Saturday. But the whole show was an exercise in memory and tribute to the original band members, the video screen declaring “Their Legacy Lives On” as the Southern rock Icons tore into its traditional opener, “Workin’ For MCA,” with guitarists Rickey Medlocke, Damon Johnson and Mark Matjka trading solos along with keyboardist Peter Keys.

Lynyrd Skynyrd performs at Pine Knob © John Swider

With the exception of the fan-saluting “Skynyrd Nation,” Skynyrd kept its boot heels dug into the band’s classic  repertoire and freely acknowledged that it was not music made by the musicians currently on stage,although Medlocke was part of Skynyrd during the early 70s before leaving to focus on his band Blackfoot. The bands storied history was in good hands as Skynyrd worked through blistering takes of “What’s Your Name,” “Gimme Three Steps,” “Saturday Night Special,” J.J. Cale’s “Call Me the Breeze” and “Sweet Home Alabama.”

Fan favorite “The Ballad of Curtis Loew” was rekindled once again after Eric Church’s “Lynyrd Skynyrd Loew,” brought renewed interest to the original and “Tuesday’s Gone,” which was dedicated to Rossington with a moving video montage. Frontman Johnny Van Zant, filling his late older brother Ronnie’s spot since 1987, acknowledged the racially motivated shootings in Skynyrd’s native Jacksonville, Fla. earlier in the day while stating in a matter of fact sentiment, “We’re not proud of that,” while introducing set staple “Simple Man,” then dedicated the song to U.S. military personnel and first responders.

Lynyrd Skynyrd performs at Pine Knob © John Swider

The set’s only lamentable moment came after “That Smell,” Skynyrd’s cautious tale about substance abuse, when the group used “Whiskey Rock-a-Roller” off the 1975 release Nuthin’ Fancy, to promote its new whiskey brand, Hell House. Nothing too serious in the mind of the fans on hand, but in this day and age of “political correctness” a better grasp of song placement when curating a performance setlist should be noted.

And finally, it was on to that song, with “Free Bird” as the single extended play encore, paying further tribute to Skynyrd’s deceased as the group moved from its majestic opening into the fusillade of instrumental fireworks that turned Pine Knob into an air guitar convention. It’s a built in fail-safe for this Iconic band, but for good reason, and also a fitting ending for Skynyrd to show it’s still flying high on the strength of its indelible songs.

There is no gallery selected or the gallery was deleted.

There is no gallery selected or the gallery was deleted.

Lynyrd Skynyrd: