Zac Brown Band layers on the sound
Without an album of new material to promote, Zac Brown Band undertook this summer’s Down The Rabbit Hole Live tour armed with an arsenal of covers to fire at stadium audiences. ZBB kicked off this year with a June 8 show in Lincoln, Neb., where they rendered Imagine Dragons’ “Next to Me” early in the set and followed through with eclectic cover choices such as Billy Joel’s “The Longest Time,” The Beatles’ “Eleanor Rigby” and Joe Cocker’s arrangement of “With a Little Help from My Friends.” The stage full of musicians proceeded to tear it up for the encore, delivering a spectrum of musical salutes from Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality” to the Rolling Stones’ “Paint It Black,” Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” to Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito,” and ZZ Top’s “Tush” to concert closer “Sabotage” by the Beastie Boys.
The band has reiterated the encore approach at concerts throughout the summer, choosing songs that give individual band members a chance to step into the spotlight. It’s an approach frontman Zac Brown developed early on as he slowly built a band and a career on his own terms.
Brown and company aren’t afraid to change things up either. Rather than keep the setlist solid and unchanging from show to show, concerts have included songs such as Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” and The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” Devoted ZBB fans will have heard some of the covers before; others are among some 15 familiar songs the band added to its live set for this tour. Sometimes the additions have personal meaning, such as when “Isn’t She Lovely” was played to celebrate the imminent arrival of guitarist Clay Cook’s baby daughter (born Aug. 22).
The flexibility and fluidity of the band was made possible by the sure and steady way the ensemble was cultivated. Brown is the leader, but he’s easy enough to work with to make musicians want to stick around. ZBB’s “Zamily” of devoted fans are to this era what Parrotheads are to Jimmy Buffett in his prime, but Brown’s communal and collaborative approach to playing live has resulted in the type of fervent fan following previously enjoyed by the Grateful Dead, Parliament Funkadelic, the Allman Brothers and Frank Zappa. Whatever the reason, new record or not, ZBB fans will come out to celebrate their band live given the chance.
For the band, it’s a chance to kick out the jams before heading back to the studio to record a new album. There has been chatter that, after the return-to-roots sound of 2017’s Welcome Home, ZBB will once again stretch boundaries as the band did with 2015’s Jekyll + Hyde. It’s not likely to be as radical a departure as Brown’s dance-poppy side-project Sir Rosevelt, which he will get a chance to re-explore after the summer tour as well. Best prediction: the new music will ride a middle ground between Jekyll + Hyde and Welcome Home, and will fit right in alongside the sizable catalog ZBB has to choose from for its eclectic live sets.
The Pearl at Palms, 8 p.m. Sept. 21, starting at $81 plus tax and fee. 702.944.3200