A lot has happened for Zac Brown Band in the two years since they last headlined their own show in England at London’s Shepherds Bush Empire. They’ve released a new album, worked with Dave Grohl, headlined our very own Country 2 Country festival and are now fresh from a headline tour playing many of the USA’s biggest baseball stadiums. The band have taken the step from a relatively big country act to megastars and a lot of this has been down to the superb live show they put on. London was in for something special here…
The show started with the lead single from the latest record Jekyll & Hyde in Homegrown . This was the perfect choice of opening song and started getting the crowd going immediately. Zac’s vocals were on point and the whole band, including a three piece horn section, was firing on all cylinders. Just to make sure there wasn’t a bum on a seat in the house they followed this up with the rousing sing-a-long Toes. The grin on Zac’s face as 12,000 people sang the lyrics back to him said it all – there was relief, playing an arena show in a different country may not have worked, but more than anything there was wonder.
One of the next highlights for me was another song from the latest record – Remedy. Before starting the number Zac informed the crowd that this was a song that they held particularly close to their hearts and, as the giant screens behind them showed, it’s clearly largely dedicated to the children who have been helped by Zac’s Southern Ground charity. The pictures left a lump in your throat.
The band rattled through the set with precision – one of my favourite points being an extended jam and some gnarly dance moves during Day for the Dead. The really highlight of the night though was Colder Weather. Zac went mic in hand for this one and belted it out with such passion that during a break in the song the band had to wait for the crowds cheers and applause to die down. Zac looked overcome by the reception – if there was ever a moment where Zac Brown Band worried about how they’d get on at such a big show in England this was when those fears went away. As Zac thumped his heart in appreciation to crowd only grew more wild. It was an amazing moment.
The set was broken up by a 4 song acoustic set where the band moved to the front of the stage to make things personal. Sometimes the downside of an arena gig is that you feel so far away from the act – clearly Zac and the band have considered this and the set of Sweet Annie, Under The Bridge and I’ll Be Your Man did the trick in bringing it all a little closer.
As well as the Red Hot Chilli Peppers Under The Bridge there were covers of Bruno Mars Locked Out Of Heaven, Led Zeppelins Kashmir and a truly brilliant version of Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody with a great tongue in cheek video package. The variety of these covers just shows the many influences of the band and also gives a moment for everyone to have a sing-a-long. This is part of the reason that the band have been so widely accepted in the States by fans of many genres.
Who Knows gave Zac and Clay Cook a chance to shred on their guitars and show of their skills. We had the Avicii-esque Tomorrow Never Comes which got the place dancing and the feel good Jump Right In. It was a set which was perfectly formed and flew by in no time. When you go to a gig you often expect that there will be those one or two songs where there is a bit of a lull – this just did not happen with Zac Brown Band. They flew through the set throwing in great variety and some great fun stage presence.
The band rounded off the set with their cover of Charlie Daniels Band’s The Devil Went Down To Georgia which is always good fun and let’s Jimmy De Martini loose on the fiddle. It was a superb way to end the set and left the crowd screaming for more.
The band returned to the stage with Beautiful Drug. I’d been interested to see this one live; on record I love the song, it’s a great twist on what Zac Brown Band usually do but I didn’t know how it would translate to a live show. All in all it was very good. Although there is something a little strange about watching John Driskell Hopkins hopping up and down to an EDM beat…
The night ended with an anthem in Chicken Fried. The crowd sang along, the band danced around the stage and wore huge grins. It was the perfect end to an awesome show of strength from Zac Brown Band. As they lay down their instruments Clay Cook dispersed a bunch of roses to some of the females in the crowd and the band spent a good ten minutes waving goodbye and thanking the crowd. There was a real sense of mutual appreciation in the air. We had just witnessed something very special.