Classic Rock Review

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Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird: The Movie (1996)

0000418633_500From starling.rinet.ru

As the title suggests, this is, historically, a soundtrack – to a supposedly fabulous rockumentary featuring the band on their very last tour with Steve Gaines and Ronnie Van Zant. As all the performances are live, captured at one or several shows in July 1977, the album functions perfectly well as just a live record, with no necessary movie connections; good thing, too, as the movie is supposed to be considerably harder to find (though probably well worthwhile).

The big problem with the record is that the shows that provided the material were taped just a year after the release of One More From The Road, and both records are basically superfluous, featuring the same lineup and more or less the same track listing; the minor differences are that One More is longer, thus including more material (the current edition occupies 2 CDs, while Freebird is captured on only one), and Freebird includes some of the first and rawest performances from Street Survivors, the album that they were intending to promote at the time, namely, ‘What’s Your Name’ and ‘That Smell’. These differences aren’t, however, essential enough to make both records worth buying for somebody who isn’t a diehard; therefore, Freebird is rather a collector’s item than a serious ‘independent statement’.

Nevertheless, the material itself is pretty awesome for Skynyrd. It’s especially painful to realise that such a terrific ass-kicking band was plainly stopped in mid-air while it was cruising at lightning speed. The performances are energetic, gritty and completely ‘authentic’. With Steve Gaines and Ronnie fully in control, Skynyrd obviously were intent on re-capturing their earliest image: that of reckless, boozy barroom rockers ready to burn the house down at any given moment. Never mind that the actual performances take place in a stadium: this ain’t real arena-rock, as the boys’ souls are clearly in the instruments and the playing rather than in the image and audience entertaining. And the setlist rules as usual: mostly highlights, hardly any duffer at all.

‘Freebird’ is still the main attraction of the concert, of course. By 1977, Skynyrd were definitely taking the number a bit too seriously: the song is played at least twice as slow as the regular studio version, so as to let the people ‘smack’ and soak in every single guitar note and every single change of intonation in Ronnie’s voice, not to mention funny bird-imitating noises from the guitars and the obligatory extra-Billy Powell keyboard solo. But when the fast’n’furious solo section comes in, all the pomp is lost and the boys just rock out like nobody else ever did (or could) – and kudos to Mr Gaines for learning his part so well and so quickly.

But even without ‘Freebird’, the level of energy rarely falls below ‘pump-pump’; the boys don’t tease us with too many ballads (there’s none), and normally the songs are sped up rather than slowed down. Thus, ‘Call Me The Breeze’ is fully redeemed for the forgettable studio version, as Gaines and company tighten the structure and engage in rapid, lightning-speed sequences of licks that’ll send you gasping. ‘Workin’ For MCA’ and Jimmy Rodgers’ ‘T For Texas’ are also highlights, but you probably already know all about them if you’ve heard One More…

The two new songs (first tried out live, as Street Survivors wasn’t even in the process of being recorded at the time of the concert) are also done very well; I’ve never been a big fan of ‘What’s Your Name’ since it’s a bit too derivative for me, but ‘That Smell’ is great, with perfectly placed female backup voices (The Honkettes) and a terrific soulful vibe throughout. The song is indeed one of Skynyrd’s most ‘epic’ compositions, but, as is common with many ‘epic’ compositions, it only truly comes to life on stage. As for Ronnie’s roarings and all the magnificent solos, they do a fine job of saving the song from sounding hollow and generic.

Any complaints? Well, some. Apart from the obvious complaint voiced above (that the album mostly reduplicates One More), I’m not exactly happy with the sound quality – the audience noises almost overshadow the music at times, and this at a concert recorded in 1977. Go figure. Either the recording was so poor, or the engineers just wanted to share ‘the atmosphere’ with us, but I’m not too happy either way. The keyboards are mixed way too low down – as if poor Billy Powell belonged to the rhythm section. And, of course, there’s no way you can actually tell the three guitars apart when you really want to. This is particularly nasty in tunes whose crunch and potential is hidden one hundred percent in the guitarwork, like ‘Gimme Three Steps’ or ‘I Ain’t The One’. On the other hand, after a bit of casual listening one might get used to them; pray to the Lord it ain’t a bootleg, at least.

Another complaint, of course, is that this is nowhere near as diverse as an actual Skynyrd record, but what the heck, it’s a live experience. It’s supposed to be rough and tough and punchy. Who needs a live rendition of ‘Tuesday’s Gone’, for Chrissake? Let’s kick some ass now! Look at us – we kick it better than AC/DC!

And there’s a one-minute acoustic snippet of ‘Dixie’ at the end! Raise the flag, boys! Trot out the Lowenbrau!

March 24, 2013 Posted by | Lynyrd Skynyrd Freebird The Movie | | Leave a comment