Zac Brown could sustain a lucrative career churning out county pop hits like “Chicken Fried” and “Toes,” songs that extol the charms of small-town life or a the bliss of a day at the beach.
But nearly 15 years and six studio albums into his career, Brown, 37, appears less interested in retreading old ideas and relying on old formulas. That was apparent Friday night at the Sprint Center, where the Zac Brown Band drew a crowd of about 10,000 people.
Fortified by a five-piece horn section and two backup singers, Brown and the band took their fans on a rollicking, two-hour musical odyssey that hopped from one genre to another: from rock to country to pop to industrial rock to R&B, reggae, gospel and soul.
They opened with “Castaway,” a track from “Jekyll + Hyde,” the band’s fourth album, released in 2015. It’s a song about escape — indulging in alcohol and tropical weather. Then came “Whiskey’s Gone,” in which the singer tries to drink away the loss of the woman he’d pushed to the brink.
Brown fused “Free” with Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic,” then led the band into a dandy, horn-infused cover of the Who’s classic “Baba O’Riley,” in which violinist Jimmy Di Martini re-created Dave Arbus’ frenetic solo nearly note for note.
The stage was backed by an enormous video screen that relayed images and visuals throughout the show. The horn section, vocalists and percussionists were on a large bandstand with a facade that was also a video screen.
The show wasn’t flawless. The band intros (and jams) went on a little too long, and there was an inexplicable intermission.
Otherwise, the show was one long exhibition of this band’s virtuosity and personality. Toward the end of the first set, the band and the vocalists gathered at the satellite stage at the end of the runway for a stripped-down acoustic set. During “As She’s Walking Away,” they evoked the sounds of the Oak Ridge Boys. During “I’ll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter),” they veered into gospel/soul, resembling the Dixie Hummingbirds.
The second part of the show featured more covers. They should jettison the bland rendition of “Hotel California,” which they delivered straight and true, like a tribute band.
But the cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Head Like a Hole,” was spot-on and invigorating, thanks to the visuals that accompanied it: a blitzkrieg of strobes and digital mayhem on the big screen.
They also paid tribute to Prince with a brassy rendition of “Let’s Go Crazy.” On that one (as with “Head Like a Hole”), Brown turned the lead vocals over to another band member, content to step back, strum his rhythm guitar and listen to the engine roar.
Around the covers, they played their own material, which displayed its own diversity. “Beautiful Drug” sounded like a disco anthem riding a banjo riff. “Loving You Easy” opened shellacked in brass, Earth Wind & Fire style, then swerved gently into an easy R&B song with a Stevie Wonder vibe.
“Chicken Fried” and “Toes” generated loud sing-alongs. So did “Colder Weather” and “Knee Deep.”
During the encore, Brown tossed another curveball, dipping his toe into the American songbook with a cover of “The Way You Look Tonight.” It was quite a sight: a band of bearded Georgians pulling off a pop standard with aplomb.
They finished with “Homegrown,” another valentine to the South and the rural lifestyle. Songs like that may be where Brown’s heart resides, but he made it clear Friday night that he’s interested in exploring other terrains.
Castaway; Whiskey’s Gone; Free/Into the Mystic; Baba O’Riley; Sweet Annie; Chicken Fried; As She’s Walking Away; Jolene; I’ll Be Your Man (Song for a Daughter); intermission; Toes; Hotel California; Keep Me In Mind; Colder Weather; Head Like a Hole; Beautiful Drug; Loving You Easy; Knee Deep; Let’s Go Crazy; The Way You Look Tonight; Homegrown