When Hank Williams, Bob Wills and Patsy Cline were considered the heroes of country music, newcomers yearned to score a No. 1 record, become a member of the Grand Ole Opry and headline an arena tour.
Now that the revered forefathers of country music are the Eagles, John Mellencamp and Jimmy Buffett, country contenders strive to score a No. 1 record, start their own record label (and/or booze or wine brand) and headline stadium concerts.
The Zac Brown Band has chalked up at least 10 No. 1 records, and the frontman has launched his own wine, Z. Alexander Brown, which was being served at his concert Saturday night in Minneapolis, as he and ads on Target Field’s giant scoreboard reminded 35,000 folks.
This was ZBB’s first time as a stadium headliner in the Twin Cities, and, frankly, it was clear that Zac and company are not quite ready for a ballpark. At least not compared to Kenny Chesney and Luke Bryan, the other country superstars who have entertained at Twin Cities stadiums.
Here is where ZBB came up short:
• Opening acts. ZBB enlisted only one warmup band, the unknown Drake White and the Big Fire, who were talented but underwhelming under the circumstances. Each time Chesney rocked Target Field, he brought along another arena headliner — Jason Aldean, Tim McGraw and ZBB — plus two other openers. Last year, Bryan tapped Florida Georgia Line as one of his four openers and this year he’s got Little Big Town. The big names not only set the table, but they also deliver bang for the buck.
• Pacing. A country concert on a Saturday night is party time. ZBB started slow (with the beach fantasy “Toes” on a cool, gloomy night) and picked up the tempo on only two numbers in the first set — covers of Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweat’s “S.O.B.,” which was transformed into a hoedown with harmonies, and the Who’s “Baba O’Riley,” which featured a horn section (cool touch), a fiddle solo (interesting) and a Union Jack projected on a big screen (clichéd move).
Oh, after playing for a mere 65 minutes, ZBB felt compelled to take a 10-minute intermission. (That’s enough time for the performers to go to the restroom but not so for concertgoers.)
Let’s see, Zac Brown is 37 and had played 11 songs. Paul McCartney is 73 and he performed for 2 ¾ hours nonstop this year at Target Center and last year at Target Field. Brown had all the energy of a lounge singer. Speaking of which, he crooned “The Way You Look Tonight.” He’s no Tony Bennett but it was a curious left-field choice.
• Production. ZBB had a nifty light show and pretty visuals on the giant screen behind the stage. But the vertical video screens that flanked the stage seemed to be about three-fourths the size of the ones used by McCartney and Chesney. Those two screens are how most of the concertgoers watch the concert.
• Repertoire. ZBB’s originals are heavy on ballads like “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and Buffettesque beach tunes like “Castaway.” The covers become necessary to bring variety and energy to a largely laid-back repertoire. In the end, that makes ZBB, an octet augmented by a horn section and two backup singers, come across like a bar band on steroids.
In true bar band tradition, backup vocalist Maureen Murphy offered a taste of Sheila E’s “Glamorous Life” and backup vocalist Jason Eskridge delivered Prince’s “1999” — and the entire band rocked Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy,” nods to Minneapolis that received huge ovations.
However, the crowd seemed somewhat befuddled by an edgy, metallic, dimly lit treatment of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole” during the hourlong second set.
Still, a bar band, no matter how popular and amped up, does not belong in a stadium.