It's about time. Some band had to fill the void that Alabama left in country music. The biggest band in the history of the genre last scored a Top 10 hit in 1999 and, of course, did a farewell tour in 2006-07.
The Zac Brown Band, the pride of Georgia, has asserted itself as country's next big band. (Sorry, people, Rascal Flatts is a vocal group, not a band.) ZBB has chalked up seven No. 1 country singles, won Grammy and Country Music Association awards for best new artist, and arrived as an arena headliner after only two studio albums.
ZBB's concert Sunday at sold-out Target Center proved the club-reared, road-tested sextet (augmented with a percussionist) has all the right stuff to be a country force for a long time. That's because Brown, a restaurateur and cookbook author, and the boys have borrowed ingredients from some of the best to become a tasty, potpourri stew that both women and men lapped up.
Here's the recipe for Zac Brown Band:
1. Take a lead singer (Brown) with a sweet, warm voice like James Taylor's and a strong visual presence with a stocking cap like U2's the Edge wears and a bushy beard like Charlie Daniels had before it turned gray.
2. You gotta have a fiddle in the band, as Alabama insists. And Jimmy DiMartini was a wiz Sunday, whether plucking on bluegrassy tunes or racing through such Southern rockers as Daniels' "Devil Went Down to Georgia."
3. Lean heavy on Southern flavoring without being aggressively Dixie-centric ("Chicken Fried," their signature, oozed Southern pride and front-porch harmonies) or heavy-handedly patriotic (just a little on "Free," which was mashed up with Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic").
4. Do some admit-you're-imperfect ballads that the women will love. That's why the wistful "As She's Walking Away" and single-dad story song "Highway 20 Ride" went over so big in an arena packed with 15,000 fans.
5. Like Alabama, skip the cowboy hats and emphasize the harmonies, which were four-part treats on Sunday.
6. Show some love for Jimmy Buffett, by singing about beaches, beers and babes without being sexist. "Knee Deep" sounded like Buffett gone bluegrass (he actually sings on the single) and, heck, "Toes," one of ZBB's biggest hits, turned into a pure Buffett island singalong on Sunday, complete with a little tequila, a line in Spanish and a lot of sand.
7. Don't be afraid to flex your bar-band muscles. There were covers of oldies including -- believe it, dude -- Pink Floyd's "Comfortably Numb," the Dolly Parton/Kenny Rogers classic "Islands in the Stream" and Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See" along with barroom-bred guitar solos on the bluesy rock blast "Runaway Train," a Dave Matthews Band-like vibe on the bouncy rocker "Who Knows" and some nifty Marshall Tucker-like chiming, harmony guitar on "I Play the Road."
8. Throw in an unrecorded song. "Day I Die" had a different feel, sort of like a dramatic pop ballad with a Dave Mason guitar riff and Oak Ridge Boys-evoking vocal harmonies.
9. Be a smart, ambitious businessman by plugging your sponsors (Jack Daniels) and your charities (for developmentally disabled kids), thanking your local hosts (Polaris), hawking cooking products (rub and "brown sauce") at the merchandise stands and enlisting two artists on your label (the intriguingly soulful Nic Cowan and the strong-voiced but confusedly eclectic Sonia Leigh) as opening acts.
10. One suggestion for reworking the recipe: ZBB didn't hit the stage until two hours -- or maybe four beers -- after the start time on the tickets. Some people have to get to work the next morning.
Set list: startribune.com/artcetera.
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