38 Special Live in the Heartland!

38 Special
First Counsel Hotel & Casino
Newkirk, Oklahoma
February 27, 2015

By Jeb Wright

Set List:
Rockin' into the Night | Rough-Housin' | Back Where You Belong | Wild-Eyed Southern Boys | Medley: Live for the Music /20th Century Fox/Back to Paradise/The Sound of Your Voice/ Somebody Like You/Honky Tonk Dancer/Teacher Teacher/You Keep Runnin' Away/Second Chance/Like No Other Night| Last Thing I Ever Do | Fantasy Girl | If I'd Been the One | Good Times (The Easybeats cover) | Just Got Paid (ZZ Top cover) | Don Barnes Guitar Solo | Trooper With an Attitude | Gary Moffatt Drum Solo | Caught Up in You

Encore 1:
Chain Lightning

Encore 2:
Hold On Loosely | Travelin' Band (Creedence Clearwater Revival cover)

Southern Rockers 38 Special are out on the road in 2015, doing what they do best, mostly the way they have always done it, with one noticeable exception: Founding member and vocalist Donnie Van Zant has retired due to inner-ear damage. 

At first glance, this seems a huge blow to the band, but, when you get down to the reality of the situation, Van Zant, while a major part of 38 Special, is not irreplaceable.  In fact, guitarist Don Barnes sings, and wrote, most of 38’s best loved songs.  So, while it is not what the fans would prefer, the facts are that the band is moving forward the best they can with Barnes as the leader and sole founding member of the group; the last man standing, as it were. 

The next in the band’s longevity line is guitarist Danny Chauncey, who has been a member since 1987. Drummer Gary Moffatt and keyboardist Bobby Capps showed up in the 1990s, while bassist Barry Dunaway joined up in 2014.  While there is only one founding member, the band, other than Dunaway, who is a bass player’s bass player, playing with Pat Travers and Yngwie Malmsteen, has been around long enough to keep it real… enough. 

Barnes and band wasted no time getting the mixed crowd of Kansas/Oklahoma rockers and rednecks fired up, opening the show with one of their biggest hits “Rockin’ into the Night.”  This is a fun song, melodic in spots, yet still a powerhouse tune.  The band continued to trot out the hits with fan favorite “Rough-Housin’” and “Wild-Eyed Southern Boys.”  Next up, Barnes proved his vocal prowess by taking on Paul Rodgers, as the band opened a ten-song medley with the Bad Company song “Live for the Music.”  While this is a cover song, it was, musically, a high point of the evening.  The rest of the medley, something the band has done for some time, does what a medley usually does, and that is give the band the opportunity to get more songs in the set list.  However, it means only parts of songs get performed, which leads to why most critics do not like medleys, this one included.

While it was great to hear bits and pieces of “20th Century Fox,” “Back to Paradise,” “Somebody Like You,” “Honky Tonk Dancer” and “Like no Other Night,” the show would have been better served to have each of these rockers performed in their entirety.  We could have done without “The Sound of Your Voice,” “You Keep Runnin’ Away,” “Second Chance” and, even though it was not part of the medley, “Last Thing I Ever Do.”  The entire medley was a buzz-kill for the crowd and really interrupted the momentum of the evening, the cleverness of the medley losing out to a crowd that came to rock out… some of these folks would like a 10 second break to applaud, chat or use the beer facilities.

It took one of 38’s biggest hits to get the crowd engaged again.  “Fantasy Girl” was received well and saw the audience start to stand up and cheer.  This is a great song, and Barnes bounced around the stage and kicked the famous sounding melodic guitar solo in the butt.  “If I’d Been the One” followed, and now the crowd was singing along with the band.  Then, they did it again, pumping out two cover tunes, much less successfully than the Bad Co. song.  The Easybeats “Good Times” is not necessarily southern flavored enough for 38 Special and ZZ Top’s “Just Got Paid” while cool, and done well enough, also seemed a little out of place.

Don Barnes, then, kicked in with a good old fashioned guitar solo, something one seldom see’s anymore at rock concerts.  The guy is a tasteful player and knows enough licks and tricks to crank up the energy of the audience, although his dazzle didn’t fool any of the guitarists in the crowd.  Still, while the guy is not Steve Vai, he did a nice job.  His solo kicked off the song “Trooper with an Attitude,” another deep cut in the band’s legacy, but this one is a rocker and allowed drummer Gary Moffatt to bang around on the drums as the band took a break.  The group returned and ended the main set with a song that epitomizes the 38 Special sounds in “Caught Up in You.” 

The band came back for an encore and rocked the house with one of their standout guitar songs “Chain Lightening.”  Barnes owns this song, both vocally and musically.  When the tune ended and 38 Special left the stage, no one was fooled that the night was over, as they had not brought the house down yet with their most famous song. 

Everyone in attendance knew what was coming, as the boys returned.  “Hold On Loosely” opened with that iconic descending chord pattern and you could barely hear the vocals as the crowd was singing every word.  What came next was a surprise, and a pleasant one at that.  The band cranked out the CCR classic “Travelin’ Band.”  It was a fun rendition and ended the night on the same high note that the concert began. 

38 Special is a good band.  They are solid.  They are not outstanding, nor are they over polished.  Nope, these guys are more of a meat and potatoes band.  They play with consistency, and when they bring out their best songs they really prove why they were so successful.  The set list could stand a bit of mixing up, and the medley could be replaced, but when one gets to watch a solid band play some major hits, sung and soloed by the man responsible for them, it makes for a good night.

The big question remains, “Is Donnie Van Zant missed?”  The answer is, “Of course he is missed.”  The name Van Zant is pretty iconic in Southern Rock.  Not seeing the little man in the bog black hat on stage leaves a feeling of something missing if one has ever previously seen a 38 Special concert.  However, that should not keep one from going in the future as Don Barnes is in fine voice and can still hit all the notes. This is his band and these are his songs, and he is going to keep playing them as long as crowds show up to celebrate them, which is exactly what happened on this night in Newkirk, Oklahoma.