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Pop : Reconstituted Lynyrd Skynyrd

Before Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre show on Friday, it was hard not to keep hearing the caustic refrain from Warren Zevon’s 1980 song “Play It All Night Long” voicing the challenge of the evening:

Sweet Home Alabama, play that dead band’s song . . . .

Was the reconstituted Lynyrd Skynyrd going to be a living rock outfit for the ‘90s? Or was it going to play a “dead band’s song,” calling up the lost past in some forlorn, nostalgic seance?

By the time “Sweet Home Alabama” rolled around to set up the inevitable “Free Bird” encore, Zevon’s refrain had been fairly well erased by two hours of persuasive guitar rock featuring a band that sounded very much alive.

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The resurrection of Lynyrd Skynyrd has been gradual. In 1987 and 1988, “tribute” tours brought back the still-popular old material that had featured singer Ronnie Van Zant, whose death--along with those of two other members--in a 1977 plane crash marked the end of Skynyrd I. With an album of new songs, “Lynyrd Skynyrd 1991,” the erstwhile tribute-payers (four of them members of the ‘70s Skynyrd) are trying to become something more.

The effectiveness of their new material on stage signaled that they have a shot. While old favorites dominated, the set’s six new numbers held their own. Of those, “Keeping the Faith” and “I’ve Seen Enough” were stormy highlights that sparked an audience obviously eager to hear more familiar stuff.

Johnny Van Zant, who was a 16-year-old rock novice when his brother was killed, echoed Ronnie’s definitive Southern-rock vocal style--husky, drawling, unpretentious and full of heart. While he wasn’t a commanding presence, he didn’t have to be. Having stirred his own tasteful ingredients into a song, Van Zant could turn the stove over to a blazing troika of guitarists--Ed King, Gary Rossington and Randall Hall--and let the grease start sizzling.


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