ZAC BROWN BAND @ RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATRE | 5/8/13 "We're gonna warm it up!" Zac Brown said just before he launched into "Toes," one of the handful of Jimmy Buffettized country-rock tunes his band played at Red Rocks last night. That song ("Toes in the water/Ass in the sand"... don't act like you haven't heard it) was nothing less than an act of charity on Brown's part, as sporadic rains had much of the crowd freezing in their cowboy boots.
Sure, "Toes" is a silly tune, but that's part of Brown's easygoing, disarming charm. In recordings and on stage last night (his first of a three-night run at Red Rocks), Brown has come to embody an Everyman image that is too often lacking in country music. No tailored clothes or custom boots. The guy could've easily just sold you a margarita. On the beach.
That humility was on full display at this gig, which was also laden with radio hits that span the band's very brief (five-year) career. "Colder Weather," one of the singles from 2010's You Get What You Give, was the first of many songs the audience knew by heart. "Knee Deep," a tune so reminiscent of Buffett that Buffett himself sang on the original recording, came next. Behind stage, projected images of beaches were interspersed with closeups of the band performing. Are you beginning to see a pattern here?
The night wasn't just beach music. "It's Not OK," from Brown's first album, The Foundation, showcased a band that has moved effortlessly between genres, bridging gaps between 1970s folk and '90s jam band noodling -- at points during the show, Brown's guitar picking became so strained and urgent that it appeared he was attacking the damn thing. Other songs, all fronted by Brown with his acoustic guitar and good-but-not-great baritone, adhered to a similar mid-tempo pop vibe, no sharp edges, nothing too offensive.
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Here's how Brown was not anything like a crossover act: The man loves his country. You don't hear that so much at other shows. Seems like country artists have the market cornered on irony-free, unabashed patriotism. At one point, Brown thanked Jack Daniels for sponsoring the tour ("That's some American-made whiskey!"), and towards the end of the set, Brown thanked our troops serving overseas, before playing the opening lines to "America, the Beautiful."
Another crossover hit, "As She's Walking Away" (whose original recording featured Alan Jackson), came mid-set and was followed by a number of covers and medleys, including Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely," which was set to the melody of Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower." Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic" also got some airtime. But the most unexpected tune of the night -- aside from the encore cover of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" -- was a rendition of Dan Fogelberg's "Leader of the Band." It was a fitting tribute to one of Colorado's own.
As the rains started back up, the three-song encore wound down. Unexpected as the Metallica cover was, it paled in comparison to Brown's take on Charlie Daniels' 1979 hit "The Devil Went Down to Georgia." Damn, that fiddle. Who knew a country band could rock so hard?
Personal Bias: Prior to last night, I hadn't thought much about Brown, beyond his bizarre resemblance to Jack Black.
Random Note: There was more guys dressed in camo than I could count at this show.
By the Way: Zac Brown Band members should consider renovating their fireplace mantles: Last year's Unchained won Best Country Album at the Grammys, adding to the long list of CMA and Academy of Country Music awards they've been garnering over the past four years.
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