Zac Brown Band are one of the hottest acts of any genre at the moment, particularly in the US where they regularly sell out multiple dates at some of the biggest stadiums such as Fenway Park, sometimes even without any support. A band like Zac Brown Band are so ambitious that dominating the country market is no longer enough, and their latest release ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ demonstrated this by exploring a plethora of genres, from EDM to hard rock and swing. A band looking for dominance across genres aren’t going to stop until they can dominate the overseas markets as well, and so Friday night saw them playing a huge gig at one of the bigger arenas in the UK. There was a definite feeling that if they could sell out this arena and do some more press over here, then an arena tour is on the cards in the near future. I am pleased to announce that the gig was a massive success, and that even after a 150 minute set, the crowd was still begging for more!
Kicking off with the lead single from ‘Jekyll + Hyde’, ‘Homegrown’ was a good move, since it has the sort of driving beat and immediate recognisability that can really work the crowd straight from the introduction. The audience was immediately involved in the music as well, with a frenzy that was quite impressive for the relatively early 8.30 start time. Following up with ‘Toes’ was more unexpected, since I expected Zac to go straight into a run of ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ songs. Having said this, he was quite justified in the decision since the crowd was straight in, singing the lead-in to the chorus instead of Zac. This was a stand-out point throughout the gig, since for most songs there was a loud crowd contingent singing along, which is unusual in the UK where there are usually one or two songs that gets the crowd involved and otherwise some resistance to the sing-along.
Mixing some of their big country hits such as ‘Keep Me In Mind’ and ‘Goodbye In Her Eyes’ with their more recent rock songs like ‘Day Of The Dead’ from their ‘Grohl Sessions: Volume 1’ EP and their reggae infused ‘Castaway’ from ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ was very effective, showing exactly what the Zac Brown Band is about musically. ‘Day For The Dead’ in particular was amazing, and allowed the band to show off their skills during a long instrumental break in the middle. Although some of the audience seemed to switch off during the instrumental periods of the show, I am a big supporter of them occurring, since sometimes it can feel like the show is all about Zac Brown, rather than Zac Brown Band, and I think allowing the band some freedom to jam helps to reset the balance a bit.
One of the highlights of the gig came just before the unexpected intermission, where Zac got the whole band to congregate on the end of the stage walkway with acoustic instruments and perform acoustic versions of some of their country hits. ‘Colder Weather’ has long been a favourite of mine, and ‘Sweet Annie’ was also amazing to hear performed live. One of the surprise highlights was their performance of ‘I’ll Be Your Man (Song For A Daughter)’, which is one of my least favourite tracks from ‘Jekyll + Hyde’, but was very enjoyable to hear live. The really important thing that Zac managed to do for this section was to make the songs intimate, even though they were performing at an arena full of over 12,000 people.
The intermission seemed to separate the ‘country’ part of the gig from the mixed genre, up-tempo part of Zac Brown Band’s back catalogue. I think this was pretty indicative of where Zac Brown Band are going forward, and in particular, their performance of ‘Who Knows’ contained a long instrumental solo. This became boring at times, but then would very quickly become absolutely awesome, so I am not complaining about it at all, and when it picked up the pace, the whole arena felt like it was rocking! Following this up with a cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was absolutely awesome, but having said that I was disappointed that Zac Brown Band didn’t make it their own instead of just reproducing the Queen version. I think a country version, played by one of the most talented and diverse bands in the world, would have been great to hear, but unfortunately they chose the less creative route.
Likewise, they then became one of the latest country acts to kiss Bruno Mars’ arse, reproducing his song ‘Locked Out Of Heaven’. Why country is suddenly becoming obsessed with R&B, particularly Bruno Mars, is beyond me and I am especially disappointed in Zac Brown, who showed in ‘Jekyll + Hyde’ that they are one of the most creative acts in the world, and so there is no reason for them to be covering Bruno f***ing Mars. The only way I could have been more disappointed would be if they had covered ‘Uptown Funk’, in which case I would have definitely walked out of the arena and never returned.
However, their awesome EDM song ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’ more than made up for their set-list sins, and hearing the song live was an incredible experience. I absolutely love the Avicii-like style of playing electronic music in a bluegrass style, and I think Zac Brown Band takes this to the next level, keeping it out of the realm of full-blown EDM music, and maintaining some of the melodical and lyrical qualities that made them such a popular band in the first place. Whilst ‘Beautiful Drug’ isn’t as good as a song as ‘Tomorrow Never Comes’, when they performed it during the encore, it was still an awesome asset to their live show.
Finishing up with their smash hit ‘Chicken Fried’ was absolutely the correct move, since it is arguably their biggest hit, and consequently I don’t think Zac had to sing the chorus once, letting the crowd do the work for him! If he wasn’t convinced about their following in the UK before that, he most certainly is now! What a gig, and I can’t wait for them to come back!
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