Zac Brown Band – SSE Arena, Wembley (25 September 2015)

I begin with a confession. This review is not impartial. Zac Brown Band are the reason I love country music.

I’m a late convert. I saw Zac and his band performing on the 2010 Grammy’s. They appeared with Leon Russell and performed half of Chicken Fried.  Zac ended the anthem with his solo acoustic guitar solo and I was spellbound. Who were these guys?

We live in an age where investigation is painless and I soon discovered that they had been nominated for “Best Country Album”.

“The Foundation” was that album. Fast forward five years and we find ourselves at the SSE Arena Wembley. This was the fourth time that I have seen ZBB live.

They first came to the UK in July 2011 supporting Kings of Leon in Hyde Park but also performing two solo gigs at Shepherds Bush and Glasgow. I was fortunate to be at the Empire in Shepherds Bush and witnessed my favourite live concert.

Guitarist Coy Bowles remembers “It has been two or three years since we had played a venue that was that intimate and the Shepherd’s Bush crowd was like no other we had ever played in front of. They knew every word to every song and sang it as loud as they could. We could have played one note and they could have sung the rest of the tune by themselves. Pinch!!”

We were certified groupies that night. The benefit of a smaller venue is the ability to meet and greet for free at the after show stage door.

The status of ZBB is now somewhat different. Stadium tours in the US and 4 albums later prevents such intimacy. However, there is an affinity with someone you have followed and supported and indeed met. Although Zac and the band have appeared at the O2 as headliners at the 2014 C2C this was their first UK arena gig as individual artists.

Wembley is a large venue to fill but save for a few rows at the back the arena was rocking from the outset. They change the set list almost nightly such is the diversity and tonight they opened with their latest US Country top 10 single “Homegrown”.

The scale of the production was instantly apparent. A two-tiered stage with Drummer Chris Fryer and percussionist Daniel De Los Reyes up top with the rest of the band at stage level. However, the upper section also accommodated a three-piece brass section and a five piece choir.

We were then treated to a two hour extravaganza of musical genres showcasing the multi-talented band members and of course Zac’s vocals.

“Toes” is often utilised as an encore. Tonight it was second song which enabled the audience to instantly prove that this crowd “knew the words”!

There is always a sense of pride to see a UK crowd react to a US Country band with such passion and “Colder Weather” certainly proved the UK’s adoration of Zac Brown. The main man sang solo on an elevated section of the stage near to the audience who gave him a three minute standing ovation mid song. Stunning stuff, as was the sheer quality of the backing provided by the remaining seven members of a band that have been together for upwards of six years.

Whatever the set list you can guarantee that there will be the inclusion of at least one song that showcases the talents of the guys in the band.  We had the funk inspired “Day for the Dead” and a ten minute version of “Who knows” featuring solos from Zac and Clay Cook.

A highlight for many was the ZBB version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”. If there is a song that has to be performed correctly this was it. There’s no hiding place when you are covering Freddie’s song.  It was ambitious but a blast for the crowd who lapped it up. Special mention again for the aforementioned Mr Cook who was now on keyboard duties.

The acoustic section of the show began with “Sweet Annie” and included a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover “Under the Bridge” but did not include “One Day” which was a disappointment. I would not choose to hear Zac covering a Bruno Mars song “Locked out of Heaven” at the expense of “As she’s walking away” or “Knee Deep” but that would be being ultra critical.

ZBB have enough material these days that it’s impossible to accommodate everything. Let’s not forget that “Devil Went to Georgia” is also a cover version and Jimmy De Martini’s fiddle playing is worth the price of admission.

“Chicken Fried” came at the very end. We knew it was coming and the Arena erupted. They carried on erupting as the band left the stage with Zac announcing that they “would be back”.  Having filled Wembley would they be brave enough to attempt a full UK tour.

Now that would be pretty neat wouldn’t it…….