Concert Review: ZZ Top / Lynyrd Skynyrd / Uncle Kracker @ SPAC, 09/08/2023
Rock and Roll icons ZZ Top and Lynyrd Skynyrd brought their co-headlining “Sharp Dressed Simple Man Tour” to the Broadview Stage at SPAC on Friday night. It was the trio from Texas who would close the night out in Saratoga.
ZZ Top hit the stage with “Got Me Under Pressure” from 1983’s “Eliminator” album. New bassist Elwood Francis came out rocking a custom “High Selecta” 15-string bass guitar. Although I am pretty sure I only saw him use three of those strings, it certainly looked impressive. Bandleader Billy Gibbons was timelessly cool with a custom Gibson SG, while drummer Frank Beard propelled the blues and rock legends behind a huge drum kit. Francis replaced original bassist Dusty Hill, who passed away in July of 2021. He has quickly acclimated to the ZZ Top sound and image. He is a fantastic player, locking in with Beard and laying a foundation for Gibbons to explore sonically. They offered up a sixteen-song set that spanned their entire catalog. They also found time to give a nod to their influences, such as a stellar cover of Sam & Dave’s 1968 classic “I Thank You.” During a cover of Merle Travis’ “16 Tons,” they paid tribute to Dusty Hill and Jeff Beck with a video montage on the enormous video wall mounted behind Beard’s kit. Gibbons showed off with a one-handed guitar solo during “Sharp Dressed Man” and offered some incendiary slide playing on “Just Got Paid.” For a band that has been touring pretty much non-stop for five decades, they show no signs of slowing down. They closed their set with one of their earliest hits, the slinky, sexy “La Grange.”
Lynyrd Skynyrd held down the middle slot on the bill. Many people are quick to point out that there are no original members left in the band. The last active original member of the band was the late Gary Rossington, who passed away in March of this year. It was his wish that the band continue touring under the “Lynyrd Skynyrd” name. While it is true that no person on stage Friday night was an original member, they still paid tribute to the spirit of the music and the legacy of their fallen bandmates. Some of the current members of Skynyrd have been with the band for decades. Guitarist Rickey Medlocke was in the band from 1971 to 1972. He rejoined in 1996 and has been a fixture since. Singer Johnny Van Zant has been leading the band since they reformed in 1987. He is the younger brother of original singer Ronnie Van Zant. The music sounded tight, and the crowd didn’t care who was playing on stage. “Skynyrd Nation” took over, and it was an all-out singalong. Their set was fourteen songs of perfectly crafted southern rock. They have long ditched the Stars and Bars of the Confederate flag, replacing them with the state flag of Alabama. It was a nice touch. A tribute was paid to Rossington during a moving rendition of “Tuesday’s Gone.” During a set-closing “Free Bird,” they paid tribute to the other fallen members of the band.
Uncle Kracker opened the show to a sparsely filled pavilion. His eight-song set was highlighted by versions of songs he has done with other artists. He ripped through the Kid Rock hit “All Summer Long” as well as the Kenny Chesney smash “When The Sun Goes Down.” He closed his set with his cover of Dobie Gray’s soul classic “Drift Away.” He has gone from Kid Rock’s DJ to a staple of adult contemporary radio. Not a bad career trajectory.
Once again, the weather tried to derail a concert at SPAC. A severe storm warning kept fans sheltered in their cars prior to the gates opening. Once again, SPAC staff expertly handled the influx of fans once the doors were opened. It was a great night of classic Rock and Roll.