Friday, November 12, 2010

A song about the origins of fried chicken? Yep, this is country.

I am drinking a Coors Light in a yellow Landshark beer coozy and dancing like a fool in public. There is a small sea of cowboy hats silhouetted in the dark and we are all clapping and swaying on this warm Sunday night. But let me back track.

Zac Brown Band

I have written, spoken and repeatedly discussed my lack of interest or connection to country music. I don't feel bad about this. Modern country just doesn't click for me. I love Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton, a bit of classic blues, blue grass and some Southern country tinged rock. But I need something inside of my country. I need an edge, some darkness, some charge. And I don't get this when I listen to Toby Keith or Carrie Underwood. I love the Avett Brothers with their Southern country tinged flair. I love the Jayhawks and I've dabbled in Wilco, and now I've grown all warm and fuzzy for the Zac Brown Band.

Zac Brown Band

My dad asked if we wanted to join he and Kristy to see Zac Brown last weekend. And I admit I hesitated for a minute. I love live music, but if you asked me to name a single Zac Brown song before last week I couldn't have. Why would I want to go see a mainstream country band that I know nothing about? Me, old hipster nerd, more Bloc Party than Brooks and Dunn. Converse not cowboy boots. But Dad said boots weren't required and he was so excited. The tickets were free. Dad is on a country kick. Joe was up for it and the one time I heard Zac Brown he was singing with Jimmy Buffet on some TV show. I enjoy Jimmy Buffet now and then. He's like pure beachy summer, an ice cold Corona with a perfect slice of lime, it's lazy, warm sunny music, a vacation for the ears. So I was in. And that's how I found myself tapping my feets, clapping my hands, swilling beers and chilling with the rowdy crowd for three and a half rousing hours.

Zac Brown Band

Zac Brown has pulled together an independent, eclectic mix of musicians including two opening acts that I would actually see on their own. And immediately you know that Brown is a big music fan. He personally introduced each act and explained why he liked them and couldn't stop listening to their CD's in his truck. All of the musicians shared the stage and performed songs together throughout the night with Brown playing MC, host, chief music man and all around ring leader and he did a classy and engaging job of it.

Zac Brown Band

The opening act, Casey Dreissen walked out on stage dressed head to toe in a bright red Colonel Sanders type long jacket suit and vintage tie. He and his band told a great story about buying vintage ties in every one of their tour stops, so they were decked out in neck wear procured right here in Kansas City. Casey is a wild fiddle player. Wearing a red devil tail and burning up the strings on his fiddle, bowing and pitching around the stage like a mad man. His curly tufts of hair poufing around his ears, bald in the middle, and quirky glasses. He looks a lot like the actor Michael Jeter when he was on Evening Shade. The highlight of his performance was an instrumental fiddle version of Billie Jean. Go listen to it here, please, treat your ears. The crowd went a little insane. Casey pops up, thankfully, throughout the night and performs on several songs with the rest of the bands, including a fiery cover of The Devil Went Down to Georgia that Charlie Daniels would be honored by.

The second opening act, the Wood Brothers, were all bluesy brashness, plaid shirts and long hair, a mix of the Allman Brothers sound with Neil Young's voice and a little Muddy Waters thrown in for flavor. They rocked the stage with lots of sharps and flats as my dad would say. (He prefers a calmer, more melodic sound and wasn't a big fan of the Wood boys, he was just dead wrong.) I loved their energy, skillful strong guitar playing and the lead singer's strained rough voice.

And then it was headliner time. They all piled onto the set, which was all layers of wooden boxes for the different levels, with three big screens and small household type lamps scattered around, making it all cozy. Before the Band came out they played a short Jackass type intro video, all pranks, inside jokes, hairy man chests and nipples, hacky sack playing, and lots of beards. ZBB could stand for Zac Brown Beards, because there is an abundance of facial hair with this group. Long, hippy, beards that make the band look like half the guys I lived with in Hashinger Hall in college. Loose, funny, down to earth guys who probably didn't shower more than twice a week. Guys who wore cargo shorts and docs, rugged and earthy and usually a hell of a lot of fun to be around. The Zac Brown Band got on down to performing their brand of modern country pop music. Lots of great covers, One Love, no surprise that the beard band loves a little rasta, the aforementioned Devil Went Down to Georgia and a couple of others. Then their own music. Beautiful melancholy lyrics of hurt and forgiveness and then their popular beach hits that sound like they were written by the love child of Jimmy Buffet and Kenny Chesney. And several songs about being on the road with the deep desire to just come home. One of these songs was played while a video of ZBB's USO performance played on the big  screen, cut with shots recognizing and honoring the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. It was heartfelt and genuine. The Zac Brown Band's performance was solid. Moving easily from the jaunty, upbeat country rock to their slow romantic ballads, Zac Brown Band know how to perform.

Zac Brown Band

But I preferred the show as a whole. Brown chose supporting players that elevated his music to another level, focusing on the musicianship, charisma, talent through collaborative shared performances that highlighted each musicians' particular skill. The entire crew closed out the show with a sound straight out of Oh Brother Where Out Thou?, with classic gospel tunes electrocuted with blues, funk and fiddle playing. Zac Brown Band was a fine time by themselves, but the sum of the all the parts together made for a raucous night of down home American country fun. I think I might have to buy some red cowboy boots.

Photos by red neck country boy straight from the corn fields of Omaha, NE: Joe Sands

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