Bone Bash 14: Bad Company, Lynyrd Skynyrd & Night Ranger

Bone Bash 14
Shoreline Amphitheater, Mt. View, CA
June 23, 2013

By Dan Wall

Bad Company Set List: Rock and Roll Fantasy, Burnin’ Sky, Running With The Pack, Feel Like Making Love, Gone Gone Gone, Electric Land, Simple Man, Moving On, Shooting Star, Can’t Get Enough. Encore: Bad Company, Rock Steady. 70 minutes.

Lynyrd Skynyrd Set List: What’s Your Name, Call Me the Breeze, I Ain’t the One, Down South Jukin’, That Smell, You Got That Right, Saturday Night Special, I Know A Little, Simple Man, Mississippi Kid, Gimme Three Steps, Sweet Home Alabama. Encore: Freebird. 80 minutes.

Night Ranger Set List: Lay It On Me, Sing Me Away, Four in the Morning, High Enough, Eddie’s Coming Out Tonight, Do You Close Your Eyes, Don’t Tell Me You Love Me, Sister Christian, (You Can Still) Rock in America. 50 minutes.

When Bad Company and Lynyrd Skynyrd decided to tour together to celebrate their 40th anniversary this year, the pairing became the obvious choice to co-headline Bone Bash 14, the yearly concert that is essentially San Francisco-based classic rock radio station 107.7’s birthday party. Over 18,000 fans jammed into Mountain View’s spacious Shoreline Amphitheater on June 23 for the annual event.

It was a great night of music with one caveat-Bad Company headlined the show, and they probably shouldn’t have. I am not saying that the group shouldn’t have because they don’t deserve to-of course they do, the band basically wrote the template for what is played on classic rock radio. No, this doesn’t really have that much to do with the actual music of either band, but each group’s live history in the greater Bay Area.

Northern California has always been a special place for Skynyrd. This is the same area where guitarist Gary Rossington made his return to the band at Concord Pavilion following his near fatal accident in 1976. A New Year’s Eve show in Oakland later that year was the best holiday show I’ve ever seen. The group blew Peter Frampton off the stage (doing severe harm to his career) in 1977 at two Day on the Green shows in Oakland, which were captured on film for the Free Bird movie. And the first shows of the 1987 reunion tour were done in the same Concord venue that Rossington (and all of us who were there) remembers so well.

Conversely, Bad Company, despite its reputation as a great live band around the world, played only five shows in the area between 1973 and 1980. This was due to two things-one, the group didn’t tour as much as some of the others from that era (think Aerosmith, KISS, Ted Nugent, Van Halen) who seemed to come around every six months or so. (I did see Bad Co. literally rip the roof off of Winterland in May, 1976, so it isn’t like I didn’t get to see the band tear it up live).

And two, the band was managed by Peter Grant, the infamous leader of Led Zeppelin, whose relationship with legendary Bay Area concert promoter Bill Graham was forever damaged by the violent incident that played out during the band’s last two shows to ever be played in the U.S. with John Bonham. After the first of two weekend shows in July, 1977, Grant, Bonham and two of Grant’s henchman beat up a Graham employee after a misunderstanding backstage. The next day, Grant basically blackmailed Graham, claiming that if he wouldn’t sign away any legal rights that his employee may use to sue the band, Zeppelin wouldn’t go on (this all happening with 55,000 already gathered at the Oakland Stadium). Although Graham was advised to sign the letter (it turns out you can’t sign away someone else’s legal rights, but Grant didn’t know this), his already tenuous relationship with Grant was forever harmed, and Graham vowed to never work with him again.

Thus, Bad Company did not perform in the area on the “Burning Sky” tour and worked for a second-tier promoter on the next outing, and when a near-riot at the Oakland Arena ensued, Bad Company’s live concert reputation in the Bay Area took a hit as well.

Now, I realize this is a bit of a history lesson (this is Classic Rock Revisited after all), but it helps explain why I thought the set-up for this show didn’t favor Bad Company. It’s very difficult to follow Skynyrd under the best of circumstances, but on this night, Skynyrd played a storming set in front of one its most dedicated followings, while Bad Co. came on a bit late (about 9:45, with an 11 p.m. curfew looming), was forced to cut its set, and was hampered by the fact that it was a Sunday night, with most of the middle-aged crowd ready to head home around 10 p.m. And with all of the local bands, side stage activities and four bands on the main stage, the show went a bit longer than advertised, and that never favors the last band to take the stage.

It’s sad that it happened that way, because Paul Rodgers and his fabulous voice were once again front and center during his band’s set. Rodgers is one of the few singers that has fronted three iconic bands-Free, Bad Company and Queen, so he definitely knows what he is doing. There was nothing wrong with his voice or his delivery of the band’s big hits. As a matter of fact, his voice seems to get stronger the older he gets.

With fellow original members Mick Ralphs (guitar) and Simon Kirke (drums) laying down the infamous riffs and beats (helped out by former-Heart guitarist Howard Leese and bassist Todd Ronning) to some of rock’s greatest songs, it wasn’t like Bad Company did anything bad onstage that night. Perhaps the biggest gaffe was the fact that the band didn’t play “Good Lovin’ Gone Bad,” “Deal With the Preacher” or “Live For the Music”-classic songs all, and certainly better than a few of the non-hits that made the set.

It simply comes down to this-in some areas, there are bands that should be the featured attraction no matter who is on the bill. You wouldn’t want to follow Tesla in Sacramento, Z.Z. Top in Houston or KISS in Detroit would you?  Skynyrd is so beloved in this area that if there is ever a Bay Area Music Hall of Fame, Skynyrd might be the only band not formed in the area to be inducted.

It’s no surprise then that Skynyrd was the perfect band to fill the special guest slot at this year’s BB, and the crowd was readily pumped to see one of the Bay Area’s favorite sons. The 13-song set was chock full of classics, and that closing run of “Gimme Three Steps," “Sweet Home Alabama” and “Freebird” is simply unmatched in the rock.

It doesn’t hurt that this version of the band, still featuring vocalist Johnny Van Zant and original guitarist Gary Rossington, is easily the best of post-plane crash line-ups and trails only the original unit and the group that was on the ill-fated plane in 1977 as far as talent goes.

Vocalist Van Zant is the band’s direct link to the past, and he does his best to replicate his late brother Ronnie’s vocals without stepping too hard on the band’s legacy. Rossington has been there since the beginning, along with former-Blackfoot guitarist (and original Skynyrd member) Ricky Medlocke, and along with Mark Matejka, the three guitarists form a unit that can blaze, play the blues and replicate the band’s great licks and solos of the past. Drummer Michael Cartelone (formerly of the Damn Yankees) is the backbone onstage, along with bassist Johnny Colt (ex-Black Crowes), and keyboardist Peter Keys (what a name) adds the shadings of the late Billy Powell that have always made Skynyrd such an interesting live act.

Night Ranger, local favorites of the Bay Area rock crowd, fired things up with a 50-minute set that was so loud that the band sounded more like Metali-Ranger. Guitarist Brad Gillis and Joel Hoekstra fired off lick after lick and riff after riff, while bassist Jack Blades, drummer Kelly Keagy and keyboardist Eric Levy held on for dear life behind them. “Eddie’s Comin’ Out Tonight” was the highlight, but the last three listed in the set list above definitely had the crowd fired up for what was to come.

Opener Black Stone Cherry is an interesting bridge between classic Southern Rock and modern metal. A four-piece from Edmonton, Kentucky, the band has been together since their teens, and have become a huge concert attraction in England and parts of Europe. In the U.S., it’s a different story, as the band struggles along with touring, playing the best songs from three very good records that have yet to yield the band the massive hit that could break it. Onstage, the quartet is a fiery, energized unit that can play rock, blues, country and metal and turn it into an interesting combination of sounds. Often heavier and louder than one might expect from following the group’s records, BSC is another band that is developing a reputation as a very good live act and one that is difficult to follow.

Until next year, let’s hope that the Bay Area concert scene, which has taken a hit this year with a reduction in the amount of shows being presented, picks up when Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Sammy Hagar and the others hit concert stages around the area later this summer and fall.