I’m always amazed by the regional differences in an artist’s popularity. Case in point: Zac Brown Band is a non entity here in Montreal, but last Friday night, the band played Toronto’s baseball stadium. While it wasn’t close to the sell out the Foo Fighters had 24 hours earlier, attendance was impressive, especially for a band practically unknown a mere 5 hour drive to the east.
The “Down the Rabbit Hole” tour isn’t promoting a new record, so the band played a setlist of their greatest hits, some deep cuts and a plethora of covers, as is their habit. While some of those covers worked really well, like their rabid interpretation of Charlie Daniels’ “The a Devil Came Down to Georgia”, and a splendid appropriation of Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody”, their rendition of “Enter Sandman” was pointless, save as a pretext to have Bubbles from the Trailer Park Boys guest star. A semi-reggae arrangement of Hozier’s “Take Me to Church” was another idea that probably seemed better in rehearsal. Despite the abundance of covers, the band managed to play a sizeable portion of its best material, with a few gems missing (where was “Roots”?).
Zac has a tendency to run through his biggest hits too fast, with “Toes” and “Chicken Fried” feeling rushed, but it didn’t stop the crowd from singing along to every word. The band is extremely tight and proficient, and apart from a few of the covers, every song was brilliantly played. There’s a party atmosphere to their performance that gets lost a bit in such a cavernous venue, but with the two big screens flanking the stage, Zac Brown and his musicians managed to connect with the audience despite the distance.
Whether they were playing intimate numbers like “My Old Man”, “Colder Weather” or “Free”, or uptempo singalongs like “Beautiful Drug”, a song that received a more organic arrangement than on the record, “Homegrown” or “Knee Deep”, the band was flawless. The encore featured all covers, but with only snippets of songs highlighting each band members. Some were great like “Benny and the Jets”, some were head scratchers (“Baby Got Back”?), some were surprisingly good, like the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”, that closed the show.
It was a really fun show, and while I would have liked to hear less covers and more originals, there were plenty of hits on the setlist. And one has to admit that the eclectic cover selection goes a long way towards explaining the crossover appeal of the Zac Brown Band.
Opening the night was Nehko and Medecine for the People who, because of the weekday 7PM start time, had to start their set playing to a largely empty stadium. Their set got better as it went on, but it was a strange choice to open for a party band, and in hindsight, I could have spent more time at the restaurant instead of rushing to catch their set.