If you check Wikipedia or Billboard’s country charts, Zac Brown Band is considered a country band.
But ZBB is not one of those stay-in-your-dirt-road, er, lane kind of country bands.
On Friday night at Target Field in front of 37,000 fans, Zac Brown Band, with 13 No. 1 country hits to its credit, came across like the world’s biggest bar band, covering a cross-section of hits by Led Zeppelin, Queen, Metallica, Kings of Leon, the Eagles, Van Morrison, Living Colour, Elton John — take a breath — ZZ Top, Sly Stone, AC/DC, Beastie Boys and rapper Sir Mix-a-Lot.
And, of course, there were two fiery Georgia-connected covers by this Atlanta band — the Charlie Daniels Band’s fiddle chestnut “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” and the Allman Brothers’ classic guitar jam “Whipping Post.”
Maybe the notion of Zac Brown Band as pop group is not so surprising, because when you analyze the sound of the original material the octet performed on Friday, it’s clear that the players combine the sensibilities and sounds of James Taylor and Jimmy Buffett with the harmonies of the Eagles and the jamming propensity of the Dave Matthews Band. That blend is pop music, regardless of the prominence of Jimmy De Martini’s fiddle in the ZBB mix and how many times the group’s songs zoom up the Nashville charts.
The only original that seemed out of ZBB’s sonic comfort zone was “Day for the Dead,” its collaboration with Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, a number that had more muscle, bite and textures than ZBB’s other tunes.
Otherwise, their songs were easy and breezy, the best of which were “Colder Weather” (nicely mashed up with the Eagles’ “Take It to the Limit”), “Beautiful Drug” (about a woman) with its “whoa-whoa-oh-oh” ending and, of course, the slightly twangy “Chicken Fried,” the group’s 2008 breakthrough hit filled with fiddle, pre-bro country images and Brown’s spoken tangent, “We’re the greatest country in the world. I don’t care what the media says.”
Most of the covers were pretty credible, save for the bloodless “Use Somebody” (by Kings of Leon), the vocally anemic “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” (Sly Stone) and the overly virile “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen), when Brown’s voice started to give out.
All the covers helped to reinforce that Zac Brown Band (whose members donned Twins jerseys and caps for the encore) is one tight, rehearsed and enthusiastic ensemble, with strong musicianship and outstanding vocal harmonies. That was the same impression ZBB made in 2016 at Target Field when the musicians covered songs by Prince, Sheila E, the Who, Nine Inch Nails and Nathaniel Rateliff.
Two years ago ZBB did two sets after no-name opening country act Drake White. This time, ZZB, which played one long 127-minute set, reinforced its pop connection by having pop hitmakers OneRepublic open.
Ingratiating singer Ryan Tedder tried to flex his country connection by name-dropping Keith Urban (Tedder, a hugely successful songwriter, has penned hits for country stars Carrie Underwood and Rascal Flatts and pop faves Adele, Maroon 5 and Kelly Clarkson).
Tedder also gave shout-outs to such Twin Cities spots as First Avenue, the Myth and Target Center, as well as Lake Minnetonka, not because of Prince, but because OneRepublic’s touring keyboardist, Brian Willett, grew up there.
The late-arriving crowd didn’t pay much attention to OneRepublic, not even when Tedder offered a solo piano reading of “Halo” (which he wrote for Beyoncé); her version was more memorable on Wednesday at U.S. Bank Stadium. The concertgoers did respond to “Counting Stars,” OneRepublic’s 2013 up-tempo hit and Friday’s finale. However, it’s not exactly a song that Zac Brown Band is likely to cover on its next tour.