When Lynyrd Skynyrd released its debut live recording, One More from the Road in September 1976, no one knew that it would go on to be the only live recording from the band (at the time) featuring the group’s original lineup. More than a year after the recording’s release, on Oct. 20, 1977, a plane crash claimed the lives of then front man Ronnie Van Zant, guitarist Steve Gaines, and backing vocalist Cassie Gaines (who was Steve Gaines’ sister). The crash happened during the band’s tour in support of One More from The Road and ironically, only days after the band released what would be its fifth album, Street Survivors. After the tragedy of that incident, more than a decade would pass before the band reformed with a new lineup and album. More than three decades would pass before any other live recording featuring the band’s original lineup would see the light of day in 2009’s Authorized Bootleg: Lynyrd Skynyrd Live: Cardiff Capitol Theater and Authorized Bootleg: Live at Winterland – San Francisco Mar 07, 1976. Every live recording that followed (and those in between) have all featured the band’s post crash lineup. Now Friday, Eagle Rock Entertainment and UMe will release another rare fully official recording featuring the band’s original lineup in the form of Live at Knebworth ’76. The concert captured in this rare recording took place Aug. 21, 1976 at the Knebworth as part of the day-long festival headlined by none other than The Rolling Stones. This is an important piece of information about the concert. It plays directly into the recording’s presentation and will be discussed later. The most important of the recording’s elements is its set list, which will be discussed shortly. For all that this concert offers audiences to appreciate, it is an imperfect presentation. That is due to one key limitation, which will be discussed a little later. Even keeping that one negative in mind, it is not enough to make the recording a failure. Keeping this in mind, the recording proves for the most part, to be a work that most Lynyrd Synyrd fans will appreciate.
Very few official recordings featuring live performances of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s original lineup have ever seen the light of day over the decades. In all, only three of those recordings have ever been released. That is saying a lot. Now Friday, what will be only the fourth ever live recording featuring the band’s original lineup will be released in the form of Live at Knebworth ’76. This 11-song recording is a mostly successful presentation, too. Part of the recording’s success comes through its set list. The set list pulls from all of its then four studio recordings, and even from its debut live recording, One More from the Road. What is truly interesting to note is just how balanced the set list is. The band’s 1973 debut album Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd receives three nods as does its follow-up, Second Helping. That record’s follow-up, 1975’s Nuthin’ Fancy, was represented with two songs while the band’s then latest album, 1976’s Gimme Back My Bullets is represented by one song. One More from the Road got two nods here. Simply put, it is easy to say that this rare live recording’s set list was at the time, career-defining. Adding to the interest here is that research into the band’s tour in support of One More from the Road, compared to this concert’s set list, mostly lines up. Comparisons show that the majority of the songs most commonly played by the band during its tour at the time are featured here. There is some variance between the band’s average set list from the tour and this concert’s set list, but for the most part, audiences got the set list presented in most of the band’s shows. To that end, the set list featured in this presented concert forms a solid foundation for the recording’s presentation. Now, for all that the concert’s set list does to establish appeal for the overall presentation, the recording does suffer from one negative. That negative comes from the limitation of the availability of the authorized Lynyrd Skynyrd biography, If I Leave Here Tomorrow. The last time this documentary was released was in 2018. The 97-minute documentary recounts Ronnie Van Zant’s upbringing, how that played into his song writing, and the band members’ relationships. It is itself a rarity, being that it is so difficult to find at any of America’s major retailers. In the case of its presentation here, it is made available as part of the recording’s Blu-ray/CD platform, but not its separate DVD/CD platform. Who made such a decision and why is anyone’s guess. Regardless, that limitation means that audiences who want to watch the documentary will either have to buy the Blu-ray player and HDMI cable, and Blu-ray/CD package (if they do not already own said product) or just try to find it streaming online. It really is a disservice to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s fans that the documentary would be so limited in its availability. Of course in defense of Eagle Rock and UMe, maybe not everyone is such a devotee and some people care more about the concert. To that end, that limited availability is not enough to make this recording a failure. Regardless, again, it is still a concern that audiences cannot ignore.
Going back to the topic of the concert and those audiences who perhaps prefer that more than the documentary, they and all other audiences receive in the concert, quite the presentation. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s performance here is considered by critics and fans alike to be a defining moment for the band. That is even considering that it was hardly the band’s first ever performance outside the United States. The band played Europe well before the tour that included its Knebworth show. There really is something special in this performance. The band keeps the energy high throughout the course of the 66-minute (one hour, six minutes) concert, wasting little time between songs with any amount of talking. Rather, the band allowed its performance to talk. In all honesty, the performance moves so fluidly that audiences are left feeling like it has reached its midpoint and even finale before they realize it. That is meant in the most complimentary fashion possible. It means that the band uses its songs and performances to make audiences completely forget about the time and just enjoy the show.
One big part of what makes that full immersion happen is the collective performance of drummer Artemis Pyle, guitarists Gary Rossington, Allen Collins, and Steve Gaines, and bassist Leon Wilkerson. The quartet’s talent is on full display throughout the show. The manic energy from the group throughout is so powerful as it pulls in audiences. Meanwhile, Van Zant’s own eclectic performance made for its own interest. His general lack of real emotion and motion throughout the show made for quite the contrast to the power in his vocals. Those moments in which he just stands there on stage as his band mates play their solos immerses audiences even more. That is because it makes audiences want to know what is going on in his mind. That mystery in itself makes for so much interest in his performance.
The audience’s reaction to this overall performance will engage and entertain home viewers just as much as the band’s performance. Some of those in attendance at the concert were decked out in Rolling Stones apparel – The Rolling Stones headlined the Knebworth show, but most critics agree Lynyrd Skynyrd even outperformed them, which speaks volumes — dancing just as energetically in time with the music. It clearly shows the band’s popularity at that early point in its life. Even in the more contemplative opening minutes of ‘Freebird’ audiences remained just as engaged, the camera at times showing the almost intense focus and attention from the audience as the band performed. At yet other points, the cameras capture a Confederate flag waving in the air as the band performed. This was not a flag that the band had in the crowd, either. It was brought by the audience. As a reminder, this was a show in England. It made the moment one of the weirdest moments in live music history, even as simple as it was. Yet at the same time, it shows the reach of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s appeal at that point in time. Between the interest that it creates and that generated through the rest of the audience reaction and through the band’s performance, the whole of that interaction makes clear why the actual recording featured in this package proves so important and enjoyable. When the appeal generated through the interaction between the band and audience is considered along with the recording’s equally rich set list, those elements make this recording a presentation that will appeal to any Lynyrd Synyrd fan. That is even with the one negative concerning the documentary’s limited availability in mind.
Eagle Rock Entertainment and UMe’s forthcoming presentation of Lynyrd Skynyrd: Live at Knebworth ’76 is a presentation that audiences will agree is a mostly successful presentation, especially being such a rare presentation. The recording’s success comes in part from its set list. The show’s set list is a presentation in itself that was at the time of the concert, career-defining. It pulled from all of the band’s studio recordings at the time and from its debut live recording. That live recording and this latest are technically the only two fully official live recordings featuring the band’s original lineup. Two “official bootlegs” were released in 2009 by Geffen Records, but are again, “bootlegs,” so considering this along with the career-defining set list in this recording, the set list gains even more importance. While the set list is undeniably important to the recording’s presentation, the limitation on the availability of the companion authorized documentary detracts from the recording’s appeal to a point. Luckily its negative impact is not enough to make the recording a failure, though it cannot be ignored, regardless. Moving on from there, the band’s performance and the audience’s reaction to that performance pairs with the set list to make the recording all the more enjoyable. That performance leaves no doubt about critics’ statements that the band outplayed The Rolling Stones, who were stars in their own right at that point. All things considered here, Lynyrd Skynyrd: Live at Knebworth ’76 proves itself a presentation that is for the most part, a successful new offering from Lynyrd Skynyrd, Eagle Rock Entertainment, and UMe.
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