Review: Zac Brown Band blend country, rock 'n' roll as only they can at Tampa's MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre
Seems there's still a bit of country magic left in Zac Brown’s hat.
Forget any misgivings you might have about Zac Brown Band’s uneven, occasionally perplexing new album, Jekyll + Hyde, with its dips into glammy excess and EDM ecstasy.
On a cool Friday at Tampa’s MidFlorida Credit Union Amphitheatre, the Georgia boys delivered yet another overflowing cornucopia of their trademark southern-fried country rock, delighting a sold-out crowd of 19,000.
“You only get so many perfect evenings in your lifetime,” said Brown, trotting out in a burgundy feathered top hat. “This feels pretty amazing out here to me. I hope y’all are feeling it.”
They sure were early on, after Brown opened with Jekyll + Hyde’s easiest and most harmonious gateway single, Homegrown, followed by crowd-pleasers Knee Deep, Keep Me In Your Heart and a rambunctious ride through Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody.
Yep: This was the funky, free-wheeling Zac we all know and love.
Over two sets and 2 1/2 hours, Brown and company were prudent in their use of new material, plucking only those Jekyll + Hyde songs that fit in best alongside the rest of their harmony-driven songbook.
And oh, was there plenty of harmony. There are technically eight members in the Zac Brown Band, but on this tour, they’ve brought four backup singers and, crucially, a three-piece brass section – trumpet, sax and trombone – that gave the whole shebang a shot in the arm compared to Zac tours past.
The hit Toes got a rousing mariachi makeover from the horn section, while recent single Loving You Easy leaped from yacht-rock territory into the realm of Chicago or Tedeschi Trucks Band. And Day For the Dead got spectacularly funky solos from just about everyone – not just the horns, but a little scat-yodeling from wily, whiskered multi-instrumentalist John Driskell Hopkins; and a little James Brown riffing from Brown (“Too hot! In the hot tub! Gon’ make me sweat!”)
But just when it feels like the party will never end, Brown hits you in the gut with a piano weeper like ramblin’-man ballad Colder Weather; or the acoustic, hymnlike Day That I Die; or a swaying, enveloping take on the Beatles’ Let It Be.
And before the charming, Celtic-kissed Remedy – a song Brown called “the most important song we’ve ever written” – the singer addressed Friday’s terrorist attacks in France, including a shooting rampage at a concert that left more than 100 dead.
“I want to send our thoughts and prayers over to those in Paris right now,” Brown said, reminding the crowd “just how blessed we are to live in the greatest country in the whole wide world.” The crowd responded in kind: U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!
For the most part, the second set felt more progressive, with Brown dropping three EDM-tinged singles: Beautiful Drug, the Coldplay-like Tomorrow Never Comes, his Avicii collaboration Broken Arrows. Those odd genre mash-ups are a lot more fun when you’re surrounded by 19,000 of your closest compadres. And to be fair, they felt no less indulgent than two of the band's live staples -- a merciless cover of Metallica’s Enter Sandman, led by a snarling Hopkins; or a lengthy, progged-out jam on the Marshall Tucker Band’s Can’t You See; sung by guitarist Clay Cook.
But those are the kind of freak-flag-flying indulgences Zac Brown Band fans don’t mind. It’s a whole lotta rock ‘n’ roll, yes. But somewhere deep inside, it’s still also a little bit country.
-- Jay Cridlin