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Toyota Park, Chicago 13 July 2012
visitor to Chicago will recognise The Loop as the downtown district
enclosed by the 'L' elevated subway. But to those in the know, it is
also the windy city's long running classic rock radio station who have
also promoted their own festival.
few years away it was reconstituted this year in truncated form as a one
night festival at Toyota Park, which is the home of the Chicago Fire
soccer team (or football as we would rightly call it). Coming during my
ten day down time between Summerfest in nearby Milwaukee and Moondance
Jam, with three of my favourite bands playing this was too good an
opportunity to miss.
impressions were underwhelming - the venue was in a nondescript suburb
some way from downtown, and the stadium seemed oversized with temporary
seats barely covering half the pitch and huge gaps in the stands. Yet
the pitch seating extended well beyond the width of the stage, and our
party could barely see from our second row seats at the side before
unilaterally deciding to move towards the middle for a better view.
Loverboy came on stage at 7 while doubtless many of the crowd were
still negotiating the Friday rush hour or having tailgate parties in the
parking lot. Compared to their main summer activity, supporting Journey
and Pat Benatar, the Canadian melodic rockers may have been slightly out
of place on the bill but not having seen them since 2006, I was not
going to pass up on the opportunity.
When I had
seen them previously, their set had drifted somewhat but on this
occasions they stuck to a classic set of some of their punchiest
numbers, opening with the Bon Jovi co penned Notorious and the one
surprise of the set, Queen of the Broken Hearts. Mike Reno may be fuller
of girth than of old, but the trademark bandana round his forehead and
more importantly his crisp clear voice are still there.
haired Paul Dean played some slick, economical riffs and solos, with
Doug Johnson's keyboards prominent but nicely complementing his guitar
sound. 'The Kid is Hot Tonite' was excellent and 'Hot Girls in Love', 'Lovin
Every Minute of It', 'Turn me Loose' and 'Working for the Weekend'
progressively warmed up a growing crowd , ladies of a certain age
shaking their thing down the front, but the set was over all too soon
after a fun 35 minutes.
Rodgers spent the first part of the summer touring Europe with Bad
Company but was now fronting his own band. There was little difference
in the setlist though with a crowd pleasing selection focused almost
exclusively on the Bad Co. classics that still get radio airplay in the
getting the crowd to sing most of opener 'Can't Get Enough' seemed
unnecessarily cabaret, given the quality of his own voice. 'Honey Child'
and a surprisingly early 'Feel Like Making Love' followed, Howard Leece
performing wonders as he swapped between mandolin and guitar with both
strapped around his neck, before Paul took to piano for a very
satisfying Running With The Pack, with twin guitar solos.
surprisingly good 'Satisfaction Guaranteed', from his short lived The Firm
days, and a new song broke the Bad Company monopoly, but both Bad
Company and 'Burnin Sky' sounded superb with dramatic sound effects and on
the latter second guitarist Markus Wolfe played a fiery solo, if you
will pardon the pun, to match.
the velvet tonsilled Teesider is a master at working the crowd, albeit
in slightly hammy fashion, with simple gestures and 'Shooting Star' and
'Rock n Roll Fantasy', with a snatch of Ticket to Ride, turned the stadium
into a mass singalong.
was over too soon but he was called back for an encore of 'All Right Now',
Todd Ronning and Howard doing more justice to the bass and guitar
interplay of the original than most of the previous bands I have seen
while I would have loved a set longer than the shade over an hour he was
allocated, it was another memorable performance from a man who like the
proverbial fine wine improves with each of his 62 years.
Skynyrd are among my favourite bands but having seen them do their
standard greatest hits set only six weeks previously in London, there
was a danger I would feel jaded by their performance. However the
atmosphere became something special, particularly as a relaxed approach
to stewarding meant diehards were able to get down the front and ignore
the reserved seating. A rowdy Friday night blue collar crowd may have
been mid- western by birth but were redneck by nature, and indeed a few
began to fight - and that was just the women!
surprise was that Skynyrd actually kicked off with a the title track of
their upcoming album, Last Of A Dying Breed, which like many of their
more recent songs has a defiant autobiographical feel. Fittingly it
featured a solo from Gary Rossington, keeper of the Skynyrd flame.
that was not the only change in the set - a second newie, 'One Day at a
Time', combined a laid back mid-tempo feel with bluesy old-style
Coverdale vocals from Johnny Van Zant, while their medley of songs
included the 'Ballad of Curtis Loew', given a more contemporary sounding
country rock treatment and 'Swamp Music', not to mention one of the
highlights of the set as Ricky Medlocke's lead guitar during 'Needle and
the Spoon' called to mind some of Eric Clapton's wah-wah solos in his
All of the
classics were present and correct including 'That Smell', 'What's Your
Name', 'Saturday Night Special' and the epics 'Tuesday's Gone' and 'Simple
Man', inevitably dedicated to the US troops that the band are such keen
as usual the choreography of a Skynyrd show was immaculate, with Ricky
and Mark Matejka in particular synchronising their guitar moves. Indeed
as I sought suitable photo opportunities I noticed the extent to which
the genial Johnny almost takes a back seat, at least judging by the way
the spotlights usually seemed to pick out his band mates.
darkness fell, each crowd pleaser - 'Gimme Three Steps', 'Call Me The
Breeze', with the usual honky tonk piano from Peter Keys and synchronised
stage moves, and 'Sweet Home Alabama', with Johnny brandishing a
confederate flag turned the night into an ever more raucous party and
you could tell from the smiles on the faces of the band that there was a
genuine spontaneous bond between them and the crowd.
Skynyrd show encores the same way as, to a backdrop of a giant eagle,
and Johnny quoting his late brother Ronnie 'what song is it that you
wanna hear', they are the one band where a cry of 'Freebird' actually
does result in that legendary song being played.
mournful long slide guitar solo from Gary, and the frenzied guitar jam
and flashing mirrorball that follows, are never less than special, but
somehow the atmosphere on this night made them even more so.
setting was hardly a beautiful one, and the attendance was probably
short of what the radio station hoped, but in their own differing ways
three top acts contributed to a memorable evening.
photos by Andy Nathan
Summerfest, 3-8 July
Moondance Jam, 19-21 July
Rockfest, 21 July
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