His platitudes – roared back by a surprisingly pan-generational crowd unafraid to wear their hair down and sport double denim, even on a sticky night – are surely there to gee up the several thousand fans who have poured into the North of England’s biggest indoor venue to see their Southern rock heroes for the apparent final time.
The veterans are here on their Last of the Street Survivors Farewell Tour though their lead singer isn’t one to dwell on such notions though – addressing the nature of their show a moment later, he notes: “Tonight isn’t goodbye, tonight is so long for now.”
If the nature of their impending retirement isn’t strictly set in stone, then their special guests-cum-extended opening act Status Quo are very much the fabric of British music permanence. Fronted solely by Francis Rossi following the late Rick Parfitt’s passing, they still know how to blaze a loud, proud trail of meat-and-potatoes boogie rock like nobody else, all harmonised guitar weaving and three-chord gold.
Rossi, just turned 70, spills out quips like a pernickety Del Boy, something of a veritable gentleman geezer in his suit shirt, but with a back catalogue of iron-plated staples such as In the Army Now, Whatever You Want and Rockin’ All Over the World to enliven the mood, there’s little feeling shortchanged in a brisk hour-plus affair.
Whereas Quo prefer to play it concise, Skynyrd prefer to wig out – and wig out they do, to mostly success. A handful of songs – lone reunion concession Skynyrd Nation among them – are kept short and sweet, but others such as The Needle and the Spoon devolve into technically impressive workouts for the veteran band, with pianist Peter Keys an absolute riot with his efforts, despite being dressed like a hip Colonel Sanders.
It’s a mid-show section of power ballads – Tuesday’s Gone and Simple Man – that really mark out the remarkable durability of a band who lost three members in a plane crash 1977, including Van Zant’s elder brother and original frontman Ronnie.
Following Sweet Home Alabama, black-and-white footage of him flickers to life as the soaring Free Bird kicks in; singing from beyond the grave, he still delivers shivers before the iconic closing solos tear the roof clean off.