Friday, February 3, 2017

At Last --- Lynyrd Skynyrd!

Laith Al-Saadi

Photo by Anthony Norkus Photography
A few weeks prior to the concert, I happened to catch an interview with Laith on NPR. He was talking about how not winning on The Voice but as a result got a lot of publicity and attention that he never would've gotten if he had. During that interview, they played a lot of the music that Laith had performed during the season he was on The Voice – – just snippets here and there and all of it covers. Tonight, I had a chance to hear some of his original work instead of just covers.

Laith is one of the best bluesman I've ever heard live. He has dark flowing hair and a large beard, and a name that doesn't match anything that you would expect of a bluesman but he is outstanding to listen to. His voice is clear and strong adding so much to every single song because his backing lead guitar is so on point. Not a single wasted note, and every note played for effect.

I hated that I had to miss part of his performance to go to the Meet & Greet with the headliner, but I took a few moments the next day to locate several of his albums and download them from various vendors. I can't wait to hear more of his music, both covers and originals, and I have added him to my search routine for performers that are performing locally. Would love to see him as the headliner.

Lynyrd Skynyrd

My attendance at this concert was almost 40 years in the making.  I related my story of prior attempts to go to see Lynyrd Skynyrd in my entry about My Summer of Live Rock & Roll.  As part of my plans for last summer, I bought VIP seats for July’s Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at DTE, but as a result of Gary Rossington requiring emergency heart surgery that concert was canceled.  The only reason that I even found out about this concert was a small blurb on line about a new venue opening in Grand Rapids (more on that later).  Lynyrd Skynyrd was the official Grand Opening concert for the 20 Monroe Live!

Details about my experience for the Meet & Greet is covered in another entry, so I will talk about their performance only here -- and it was awesome. Someone had told me last year that the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert they saw was all done with the band seated, just playing their songs.  If that was true, things changed after Gary's recent heart surgery. These guys were all over the stage, giving a great performance with great music and vocals.

For a Skynyrd fan such as myself, the performance was a gold mine of the greatest hits of the band. They did not bother with stuff off their last album or things from the period of time when they were the Rossington-Collins Band -- everything was pure classic Lynyrd Skynyrd.

They opened with Workin' for the MCA and then went right into What's Your Name and You Got That Right.  The audience was totally fired up, on their feet, and singing along. I once heard Ronnie Van Zant explain the lyrics of That Smell in an interview and I have to say that it is undoubtedly the best song about the downside of drug addiction I have ever heard.  

The band did a great shout-out in honor of veterans, those on active duty, and those related to folks currently serving in the military and then performed Simple Man as a tribute to them. Excellent. Among the other favorites of mine they played were Gimme Back My Bullets, Tuesday's Gone, and Call Me the Breeze.  The band was having a good time, the audience was right there with them.

During the entire concert, Gary Rossington ended almost every song by playing the distinctive first three or four notes of Sweet Home Alabama right as the applause trailed off.  It felt like he was teasing the audience with it, because a natural assumption was that it was going to be the next song played. You could almost hear everyone in the audience hold their breath when those notes were played, waiting for the next bit of song to confirm that it was indeed the one that they thought it was.  It was not until the last song of the concert set list that they actually played a dynamite take on Sweet Home Alabama.

I have never been to a single concert ever were at least once someone didn’t yell “Free Bird!” at the band until tonight. I am sure that everyone in the crowd knew that Free Bird was going to be the encore so no one bothered to call it out. Sure enough, after several minutes of applause that followed their last song, a single spotlight appeared and shone upon a full-sized grand piano that had Lynyrd Skynyrd murals painted on it.  A large silver eagle was sitting on top of the piano having mysteriously appeared after the band left the stage. After a few more minutes of applause Peter Keys came out and sat down and started playing those familiar notes.  Awesome way to end the show.

I really enjoyed the band's performance, and this is one of those groups where substitute musicians have taken the place of some of the primaries over the years without affecting the spirit of the band.

Lynyrd Skynyrd lives!

The Venue

As I mentioned before, this was the first official concert at 20 Monroe Live! in Grand Rapids; as such, there was some confusion by employees as they were dealing with the first crowd but I have to say that they didn't excellent job. Everybody who worked there was friendly, polite, and helpful.

The venue is a horseshoe shape with multiple levels. The bottom level was standing room only Electric Light Orchestra in Frankfurt, Germany. The problem then, as now, is that if you want to see well you have to get there early and stand directly in front of the stage while people behind push you forward into the barriers. If you are further back than 5 or 6 folks, you cannot see over the top of people's heads. It is kind of a frustrating setup if the reason why your attending is to actually see the band.
directly in front of the stage. The last time I went to a concert that was laid out like that was in the 1980s; when I saw the
Ringing the upper floors was a walkway where you could stand and watch the band, as well as several rows of seats on one side and the back of the house. Those seats in the back of the house were probably the best in the house as they had a direct view of the stage and were above the crowd below. Also, the seats were tiered like stadium seats so you didn't have to worry about someone in front of you blocking your view, and less they stood up.

The sound, hit a few rough spots during the first number but then smoothed out and delivered for the rest of the performance. Likewise, the lights  at 20 Monroe Live! were well handled and you could see everything perfectly.  There were bars on both the upper and lower levels, as well as a VIP room on the upper level. There were adequate bathrooms, which were well maintained during the show. As far as getting the crowd in and out, I don't recall seeing any issues there, and even though the doors opened a bit after the scheduled time there was no issue getting everybody in before the music started.

Will I be back at 20 Monroe Live! again? Maybe, if the band is a good one as the venue is closer than the ones in Detroit. However, there was a lot of confusion about the tickets that people had bought.  My package was labeled as VIP Meet & Greet tickets; to me this meant I should've had seats somewhere near the front but instead I was told that they were General Admission and I could stand anywhere that it was okay to stand. For the price paid, I should've gotten a damn seat; especially when the seats on the upper deck along the back wall were mostly empty until people started seat jumping into them after the main act began.

I am sure they will eventually work those issues out, but I just hope that unlike many shows that are booked through Ticketmaster you will have some control over where your seat actually is rather than the random lottery system that seems to place you all over the theater rather than where you actually want to sit.


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