How Good Was This? Zac Brown Band at Wembley Arena
Normally, I don’t go to stadium gigs any more — age and arthritis have tempered the desire to sit through hours of warm-up music and often second-rate support acts, or to stand up throughout the entire show because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t see a thing. I prefer to go to an intimate setting with a top class singer-songwriter with a guitar or a small(ish band).
But the Zac Brown Band at Wembley Arena was different. How so? Well, firstly, I had a slightly tiered seat — bought at the very last minute — with a great view from front left of the stage. Secondly, the show ran to time, with no long delays after the scheduled start time. Thirdly, the support act was Imelda May, an Irish chanteuse of rockabilly and power pop with a great voice and a decent back catalogue of songs to draw on. Fourthly, the sound for Zac Brown was amazing. And finally, the audience was unbelievable and the atmosphere electric. Not bad going for a U.S. country-rock band in the U.K. This was a very knowing crowd, singing along with at least half of the numbers. Those in the stalls stood up from the very first note and stayed the entire two-and-a-quarter hours on their feet, cheering, waving, snapping photos with their phones, or waving them like torches.
And the music? Brilliant, in a word! Zac Brown writes consistently catchy songs — “Tomorrow Never Comes”, “Keep Me in Mind”, and “Sweet Annie” come instantly to mind — and delivers them in a powerful, very distinctive voice. Occasionally he excels himself lyrically — “Colder Weather” is one of the great country ballads of the last few years. “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and “I’ll Be Your Man” are not far behind, and there are others, nearly all of which were performed at Wembley with a great band and special guests. At one stage there were at least 14 people on stage.
The addition of horns gives some of the songs a Latino feel and reflect the change in direction, with the new album, to a rockier sound. The extra percussion and backing group vocals excel on the holiday/beach songs. At times, when they really rock, they come over like early Doobies with twin — sometimes triple — lead guitars and two drummers.
A whole section after the short break was given over to a duelling electric guitar show betwen Coy Bowles and Zac Brown. There followed a stunning pastiche of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” almost note-perfect, right down to the accompanying backdrop video, which mimicked Queen’s original. I am not a fan of the song but this was a jaw-dropping performance.
The best bits? The stunning opening to the show where the band’s harmonies were almost the match of early Eagles and the sound was about as good as I’ve ever heard. And the largely acoustic set, when the band — up to 10 of them — moved forward from the stage to a protruding ‘jetty’ and gathered round in a huddle for a few songs, culminating in a wondrous extended gospel rendition of “I’ll Be Your Man”.
You could argue that the concert lacked spontaneity, that it was a well-managed”show”, but with such a brilliant band singing and playing songs this good to a sold-out crowd of partisan fans, that is a small gripe. And, frankly, I thought it was fantastic. It might have even persuaded me to go to more stadium gigs.