Friday, November 12, 2010

Please Pass The Jar

Zac Brown Band and Friends 
Pass The Jar
Live from The Fabulous Fox Theatre, Atlanta

The Zac Brown Band have just released a DVD and double live CD that documents a concert they did to raise funds to help rebuild the fabled Georgia Theatre in Athens, and you should buy it.


Because unless you have had your head up your ass for the last two years (or not been listening to country radio, which some may argue amounts to the same thing), then you will not have been able to escape them. First, you will have liked, then hated “Chicken Fried,” their zydeco-styled paean to Georgia good-old-boy living, which was played too much for its own good. Then you will have loved the ballad “Highway 20 Ride” and the pop song “Whatever It Is” and thought huh; they can do more than fiddle around a campfire. Then “Toes” will have gotten on your nerves a bit, but that would not have prevented you from singing along. It’s been enough of an introduction to have garnered them some serious trophy action in the Best New division, but like most best new acts, this is because they’ve been around for donkey’s years honing their craft. To absolutely no-one’s surprise they walked away with the coveted New Artist of the Year gong at this week’s CMA’s.

So what, you ask?

The reason you should give a toss is that the Zac Brown Band are throwbacks: to a time when bands consisted of fuggly-looking musicians who could write and play the crap out of actual songs. When was the last time you saw a chubby bearded dude wearing a velvet jacket hit up lead guitar, mandolin, piano, organ, pedal steel and vocals? With absolute virtuosity? Not all at the same time, sure, but, you know, wow. (Clay Cook. That’s him singing “America the Beautiful.”) And he’s not even Zac Brown. This is a band in which every member has an integral part to play: they are a BAND. They sound, if I’m being 100% honest, like The Band, and if this concert reminds you of anything it will be The Last Waltz. But since when was that a bad thing? (See “I Shall Be Released and “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.”)

They pull a happy bunch of musical friends, famous and not, onto the stage with them to deliver a mix of their best hits (new and old) and awesome covers. Kid Rock lights up “Can’t You See” the way only Kid Rock can (balls-to-the-wall); and if any band could take on “The Devil Went Down To Georgia” (how apt!) it is they, and their fiddle player (Jimmy Di Martini). If you ever wondered how a violin hacks it as a lead instrument, lend this your ears. Little Big Town, a group whose sound is based on harmonizing (a la Fleetwood Mac), gives “Colder Weather” a richness that reminds you of the Allman Brothers at their rocking finest. Joey and Rory help out on a version of “Free” that incorporates “Into The Mystic” in the bridge, thus bringing Van Morrison into the fold.

The Zac Brown Band are popular with my kids because of the song “Sic ‘Em on a Chicken,” which is a song about setting a dog on a homicidal rooster. Hey, it’s country, y’all. But my favorite is “Jolene,” a ballad that manages to feature the line “Booze in my hair, blood on my lips” with sublime grace.

There are 24 songs on the CDs, and 19 on the DVD (with 5 bonus tracks). That’s a lot of great music for your dollar. This concert is an instant classic, something you get the feeling someone, somewhere knew it would be before they decided to roll the cameras. Thank god they did; the Fox Theater don’t hold that many folks.

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