The Zac Brown Band saves their fans the trouble of playing that old “spot the influences” parlor game — they just throw ’em into the set list. On March 12, that meant we got Van Halen, Van Morrison, Eagles, Kings of Leon, and one huge tease when the opening bars of “Homegrown” sideswiped ZZ Top’s “Got Me Under Pressure.” Missed it by that much.
Meanwhile, the singalongs were loudest on originals like “Sweet Annie” and “Toes.” That’s how you know a band is really special.
March 12 was ZBB’s seventh RodeoHouston appearance in eight years, skipping only 2016, and the announced attendance of 70,319 was ready for it. These guys pick the hell out of their instruments. They harmonize. Brown says things like “We love you, Texas” and sounds like he means it.
On the first day of spring break, their opening run of “Keep Me In Mind,” “Homegrown,” and “Toes” couldn’t have sounded more appropriate if Brown and his mates had been standing on Galveston’s East Beach. This band was made for one of those plastic coolers with a built-in boombox; a good bit of their repertoire sounds like it should come served in a coconut.
But they’re also smart enough to understand there is more than just one season. In fact, one of their most poignant songs — and probably one of the decade’s best absentee-musician ballads — is called “Colder Weather.” They may have ushered in the chills with Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody,” but they kept them going by by threading their own “Free” into Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic” and Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” around “Colder Weather.”
Much credit is due to Brown for underplaying the James Taylor angle, but he has such a terrific tenor it’s hard to ignore the similarity. Those harmonies really clicked, too.
It might be easy to forget when you’re grooving on the lava-lamp visuals of “Keep Me In Mind,” but this band is loaded for bear with fantastic musicians. They belong on on the same timeline as Alabama, the ’80s pop-country juggernaut disguised as suave ’70s soft-rockers; and The Band, ’60s roots-rockers with the chops of seasoned jazz players. ZBB takes all that stuff and delivers it with the genre-melting glee of your average Spotify playlist.
That’s how you get moments like the totally badass “Panama” cover — talk about kicking off spring break in style — and songs like “Beautiful Drug,” a sort of bluegrass/EDM romp that shouldn’t work on paper but in concert comes off as a remix-friendly endorphin engine that, were this any other band, could probably close their show.
But as it should, that honor remains with “Chicken Fried,” still pure happiness formatted into song. The climactic hoedown sounded enough like Alabama’s “If You’re Gonna Play In Texas” that it purged the memory of last week’s godawful “if you’re gonna run in Texas, you can’t be a liberal man” Ted Cruz ad. Handily, and not a moment too soon.
Zac Brown Band set list
Keep Me In Mind
Use Somebody (Kings of Leon)
As She’s Walking Away
Into the Mystic (Van Morrison)
Colder Weather/Take It to the Limit (Eagles)
Panama (Van Halen)