GIG REVIEW: Zac Brown Band – Live At BluesFest, The O2

I’ll try to make this review as unbiased as possible! As you’ll probably know if you’re a long-time reader of YLIAS, Zac Brown Band are my absolute favourites. They were my introduction to country music almost 9 years ago, and YLIAS simply wouldn’t exist without their music. Therefore, when they were on UK soil for BluesFest at the O2, it was a show I would have hated to miss.

Now, I have to say, BluesFest is a bit of a strange one. I, along with many others I would imagine, went purely for Zac Brown Band on the Saturday and expected a Zac headlining set. As it turned out, Beth Hart had a longer set than ZBB. Weird, when you consider some people had paid over £100 to see ZBB, who were billed as headliners. Actually, whilst we’re on the subject of ticket prices, the system for BluesFest seemed a bit of a mess to say the least. Prices were horrendous, enough to put off some of the most loyal ZBB supporters, only for them to be decreased (some even to £3!) when sales didn’t go quite to plan. Imagine spending 150 quid on a ticket to sit next to someone who’d spent £3! The top section of the O2 was blacked out, which meant we lost the atmosphere that made their C2C appearance so magical. Technical problems were a massive annoyance too. Venue curfews are strict, so we all knew we had to be out by 11pm. It was 9:45pm before ZBB even came on stage, so they only had a 75-minute set, which is nowhere near long enough for most bands, let alone ZBB.

But enough with the negatives! That 75 minutes was pretty freakin’ awesome. Opening the show with ‘Whiskey’s Gone’, followed by ‘Knee Deep’ (which they hadn’t done in the UK for a while) and ‘As She’s Walking Away’, country music really doesn’t get any better than that. These are absolute classics that will still sound as good in 20, 30 years’ time. That’s the magic of ZBB music – just a few chords is all you need and the whole place erupts into a huge party.

Then came the first of four covers, a rendition of Kings Of Leon’s ‘Use Somebody’ which was nothing short of flawless. The audacity of these guys never ceases to amaze me; there’s no hesitation when it comes to taking on classics, and they do these songs justice every single time. They got the crowd up on their feet, and the O2 was bouncing. When it comes to covers, they do sometimes stray a little off-piste with their selections, and admittedly some of it goes completely over my head. Metallica’s ‘Enter Sandman’, as instrumentally brilliant as it is, is a little too much for me, and we’ll come onto THAT encore soon! But ultimately, if you’re going to see a Zac Brown Band show, you know exactly what to expect.

‘My Old Man’ was the highlight of the show for me. With a video backdrop showing old photos of the band members as children with their parents, the song just became extra special, and it’s clearly one that will always hit Zac emotionally. The rawness and simplicity of the melody which gradually builds is just gorgeous, and Zac’s vocal is given such a great showcase to shine. I was completely lost in that performance; it was mesmerising.

It was great to hear them delving back into ‘The Foundation’ album with ‘It’s Not Ok’; John taking the lead for this one. It brought back great memories of discovering ZBB’s music for the very first time, and there’s nothing like that feeling of nostalgia. There are, of course, the songs that Zac simply has to include, such as ‘Colder Weather’ (one of the greatest songs of all time, and I’ll argue that case till the cows come home) and ‘Free’, which was the song that made me fall in love with ZBB in the first place. A fitting end to the set, in all honesty, would have been ‘Chicken Fried’ followed by ‘Homegrown’ – party mode in full swing and everyone on a massive high…

But, this is a Zac Brown Band show after all! Always expect the unexpected. I never thought I’d see the day when Jimmy De Martini was running around the stage in a baseball cap, rapping to the Beastie Boys’ ‘Sabotage’. I really have seen it all! And just like that, the show was over, leaving us all with that feeling of ‘I can’t believe what I’ve just witnessed’. It was certainly a unique encore, I’ll give them that!

Having said that, nothing compares to seeing these guys live in terms of musical brilliance and sheer skill. They are the most talented bunch of musicians on the planet in my eyes, and are always worth a horrendous journey down to London! Hopefully the disappointing ticket sales won’t put them off returning; please Zac, come and do your own show at the O2, set your own reasonable prices and pack the place out like we all know you can. Roll on the next ZBB party!

Dan Wharton
@LifeInASong_Dan