DARIEN – Two classic rock bands shared top billing Sunday night at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center: Bad Company and Lynryd Skynrd played sets jammed with songs entrenched in the gritty, celebratory canon of rock ’n’ roll. No self-respecting drinking establishment of a certain ilk would neglect inclusion of at least one imperative greatest hits compilation from both of these four-decade-old bands.
Performing in the ultimate slot, Bad Company sauntered onto the amphitheater stage amid rotating purple spotlights before a simple and elegant drape. Paul Rodgers looked fit in his skinny black jeans and semi-tie-dyed shirt befitting a rock legend, twirling his mic stand like a baton. Full disclosure: this reviewer is an unabashed fan of Rodgers and all that he has sung.
Bad Company started out slow with “Live for the Music,” before hitting one of their best-known, “Feel Like Makin’ Love.” The song got some twang befitting a tour shared with Skynyrd, and Rodgers busted out his harmonica – a lovely layering of soulfulness.
Set highlights included beautiful fret work by bandmates Mick Ralphs, and bassist Todd Ronning on “Seagull,” and another mid-tempo lovely, “Shooting Star.” Bad Company rocked hard on “Rock ’n’ Roll Fantasy,” and “Can’t Get Enough” before their other, eponymous mega-hit – “Bad Company.” Ostensibly, everyone at the show knew every song by heart.
Whereas showman Rodgers is cool and complimentary of his adoring audience, Johnny Van Zant seems forever a little disappointed by his raucous admirers. Throughout the Skynyrd set he requested more arm-waving and louder sing-alongs, shouting “I can’t hear you!”
Like Bad Company, they opened with a deeper cut, “Workin’ for M.C.A.” as they worked up to their biggest hits. Four songs in, it was ear-splitting pandemonium with the recognition of the opening guitar licks of “What’s Your Name?”
Besides the gravelly, rock-ready Van Zant voice, the sonic foundation of Skynyrd is its soulful guitars. Original band member Gary Rossington, Mark Matejka, Rickey Medlocke and ever-roaming (and headwear-changing) bassist Johnny Colt played shoulder-to-shoulder for several on the set list: moments that fans and rock photographers live for indeed.
“This song goes out to our troops and their families,” Van Zant said as the band began “Simple Man,” and a video montage of military images rolled as the singer thumped his chest. This method of hyper-lyrical message conveyance would be used at set’s end with “Sweet Home Alabama” and their encore “Free Bird.”
Van Zant looked skyward during the encore, raising his gaze and mic stand in homage to his late brother (former Skynyrd vocalist Ronnie Van Zant) and other bandmates that were listed onscreen. The encore also featured a giant disco ball and its galaxy of whirling white dots over the audience and venue.
The Dead Daisies played second on the bill, and did a fine job, assuredly, of gaining new fans with a flawless half-hour set. The six band members, led by vocalist Jon Stevens, played a handful of originals including swaggering opening number “Mexico” and drum-rich “Your Karma.”
First up on the four-band line-up was Steve Rodgers, son of Bad Company’s singer: he hit the stage with acoustic guitar and played seated before switching to a pretty green electric. His fifteen-minute set revealed lovely, spiritually-based originals and that he’s inherited his dad’s rich pipes – lucky guy.