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Zac Brown Band renders country music with colorful twists

Special to the Star

The Zac Brown Band is one of country music’s most popular and successful acts.

Over the course of eight years and three major-label albums, it has accumulated eight No. 1 country hits; all three albums topped the country charts as well.

On Thursday night, before a crowd of about 10,000 at Sporting Park chilled by a late-summer cold snap, Brown and his band spent more than two hours showcasing many of those hits and other favorites. But they also delivered their own versions of nearly as many covers of a wide variety of bands and artists, including Stevie Wonder, Van Morrison, Guns N’ Roses, Metallica, Charlie Daniels and Led Zeppelin.

They opened with “Let It Rain,” a track from “The Grohl Sessions, Vol. 1” an EP recorded with Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, then “Knee Deep,” from their second full-length album, “You Get What You Give,” now 5 years old.

The set list featured a few tracks from the band’s latest album, “Uncaged,” released in July 2012, including the title track, “Sweet Annie” and “Goodbye In Her Eyes.” Though they are a modern country act and popular among country music fans, the ZBB ventures far beyond the cliches and traits of most modern country, exploring jam-band rock (“Uncaged”), bluegrass and old-time country (“Sic ’Em On a Chicken,” a fan’s request) and jug-band music.

The change in styles gives the band’s concerts a variety that is refreshing and provides a break from the rock/Southern rock mix that is a staple of so much country music these days. Likewise, the ZBB’s interpretations of other artists’ and bands’ songs keeps things interesting. One of those was a campfire rendition of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” delivered during an acoustic interlude.

Another was a homespun take on Guns N’ Roses “Patience.” The fusion of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” with Charlie Daniels’ “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” was a bit jarring but worth the effort. Two other mashups were more organic: “Where the Boat Leaves From” with Bob Marley’s “One Love”; and “Free” with Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.”

Years of heavy road work has forged the ZBB into a lean and formidable band, one that exhibits plenty of slick chops without getting too jammy or indulging in excess. The drum/percussion exhibition, for example, was, tastefully brief.

Bassist John Hopkins deserves special mention for his vocal and musical contributions, especially during the rapid-fire “It’s Not OK.”

For the encore, the band emerged in ghoulish costumes to perform “Day for the Dead,” then generated a mosh pit up front with a fiery cover of Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.”

The night ended with “Chicken Fried,” the breezy country-pop tune that sent the Zac Brown Band into orbit among other country stars.

It has become the band’s signature song, but these days it’s just one of many colors in its wide musical palette.

To reach Timothy Finn, call 816-234-4781 or send email to tfinn@kcstar.com. Follow the Back to Rockville blog on Twitter @kcstarrockville.

SET LIST

Let It Rain, Knee Deep, It’s Not OK, Day That I Die, Whiskey’s Gone, Goodbye in Her Eyes, Keep Me in Mind, Neon/Isn’t She Lovely, Sweet Annie, Toes, Piano Man, Patience. Intermission. Uncaged, Kashmir/The Devil Went Down to Georgia, Cold Weather, Sic ’Em on a Chicken, Where the Boat Leaves From/One Love, Free/Into the Mystic, As She’s Walking Away, Jump Right In. Encore: Day for the Dead, Enter Sandman, Chicken Fried

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