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Concert Reviews:
Zac Brown Band brings a chicken-fried end to Comerica concert weekend

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Sunday, July 15, 2018

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DETROIT -- Having concerts on consecutive nights at Comerica Park was ambitious -- and even history-making at the baseball stadium.

But the Zac Brown Band made night two as easy as a down-home chicken fry.

The genre-hopping, country at heart group returned to Comerica three years after its first show there, a bit stripped down -- no horns or backing vocalists and a less elaborate stage production this time -- but no less potent. The octet’s hour-and-50-minute set capably showed off the ZBB’s extensive musical roots, with plenty of surprises mixed among group favorites such as “Keep Me In Mind,” “Knee Deep,” “Toes,” “Chicken Fried” and “Homegrown.”

Many of those were the ZBB’s well practiced choices of other artists’ material, starting with the Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” showcasing fiddler Jimmy De Martini, and a gutsy, spot-on rendition of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” The group also charged through Kings of Leon’s “Use Somebody” and slipped a bit of the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit” into its “Colder Weather,” while Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” sandwiched an expansive version of “Neon” that featured extended solos by Coy Bowles on electric guitar, De Martini and Brown himself on acoustic guitar.

The encore, meanwhile, was a Shazam-worthy medley that spotlighted each of the band members on a variety of modern rock (Living Colour’s “Cult of Personality,” the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage”) and classic rock (Elton John’s “Bennie & the Jets,” ZZ Top’s “Tush,” Sly & the Family Stone’s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin),” AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck”) favorites; Multi-instrumentalist John Driskell Hopkins stole the show as led the group through a straight-faced version of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” (Clay Cook deserves points, too, for sporting a Def Leppard T-shirt, nodding to one of the co-headliners of Friday night’s show at Comerica.)

All of that was good fun -- and in the case of “Bohemian Rhapsody” pretty darn impressive -- but it complemented rather than eclipsed what the ZBB did with its own material. Like the show’s look the setlist focused on the group’s rootsier side while still retaining its particular blend of Dave Matthews Band jamming and Jimmy Buffett/Kenny Chesney good times. But there were plenty of poignant moments, too, like Brown -- sporting a stenciled Detroit Rock City T-shirt and a fedora -- dedicating “My Old Man” to his father, who’s in the hospital, “Loving You Easy” and the usual pairing of the group’s “Free” with Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic.”

The ZBB has played its share of memorable shows in the metro area, including a pair of Downtown Hoedowns and two New Years Eve concerts at Joe Louis Arena. Saturday night’s stop ranks among them, and certainly whetted fan appetites for another visit in the not too distant future.

The ZBB also nodded to its eclectic tastes with Saturday’s opening acts. While Nahnko and Medicine For The People’s nuanced approach was lost in the cavernous and mostly unpopulated, at that time, venue, OneRepublic fared much better. The same ZBB fans who loved the headliner’s covers was clearly familiar with OneRepublic hits such as “Stop and Stare,” “Apologize” and “Counting Stars,” while the group threw in a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” and frontman Ryan Tedder played a stripped-down version of Beyonce’s “Halo” as an example of the many hit songs he’s co-written and produced.

Tedder also spoke about becoming “obsessed with this city” after filming footage for its new Summer of Jeep campaign with Fiat Chrysler -- and then played one of the brand new songs, “Connection,” that it recorded for the ads. “We love it here,” Tedder affirmed, and the feeling was loudly reciprocated by the Comerica crowd.

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