Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Devil Went Down To Pittsburgh

Zac Brown Band, Burgettstown, July 15, 2012

The Inky Jukebox would like to open this review of the Zac Brown Band by saying that it was, by a long shot, the loudest show we’ve been to in recent years. And by “recent” we mean since the mid-nineties, say. What liquid gold was poured into the engineer’s pocket to make it so? Let us tell you how loud it was: a raucous capacity crowd of 23,000 screaming people could not be heard above the music they were singing lustily along with. That’s damn loud. From way out on the lawn, it was deafening. The folks under the canopy probably staggered out and fell over afterwards.

This is not a problem, however. Why? Because the Zac Brown Band (ZBB hereon in) are musician’s musicians: each and every member can sing and play their hearts out, and are allowed their own moment (or two, or several minutes) in the spotlight to demonstrate this. Indeed, it is when individuals are allowed to shine that the crowd goes wild, and with good cause. If you’ve been to a ZBB show before, you’d know to expect some guitar fireworks from Clay Cook, and Holy Moly, he brings them — but you might not have been prepared for how far along fiddle player Jimmy DeMartini has come in terms of being comfortable in his own space on the stage. The solo he delivers during “Neon” is nothing short of astonishing.

Be patient and watch until the end of the clip

The Inky Jukebox has tried to find a good clip of it on the YouTube, and this one sort of shows you, but only towards the end. This one’s a year old; at last night’s show, his solo has been extended and made even crazier, so that he literally tears up the stage and sets it on fire. OK, not literally. But he might as well have: you never saw a fiddle player exert so much energy or play so fast in your life — and if you closed your eyes, you’d swear it was a blistering electric guitar. Dude makes a violin sound for all the world like a Gold Top. It’s something to behold and worth the ticket price alone.

Clay Cook, meanwhile, runs from the front of the stage to the organ and piano perched above, stage left, the all-wound go-to guy for basically anything that needs doing. He clearly relishes the attention and the camera, and being an unlikely axe man who could give ANY of the greats a run for their money. His “America The Beautiful” intro is a highlight for the crowd, who, patriotic as they always are, sing along with gusto. He takes turns leading the fray with Zac Brown himself, who’s no slouch when it comes to picking. He can play FAST.

Crowd favorite “It’s Not OK” is delivered by be-whiskered John Driskell Hopkins, complete with a moment of utter silence in the middle of the song when everything comes to a stop so everyone can imagine crickets chirping. Before the encore, the percussionist, Daniel de los Reyes and drummer Chris Fryer engage in an epic rhythm battle that leaves you breathless.

At this point, you know that they are saving “Chicken Fried” for the encore, and you’d expect to hear “Highway 20 Ride” in there too, but it isn’t. Perhaps they have simply shifted it to make room for “Colder Weather,” which appears earlier in the set, to much delight from the crowd. The Inky Jukebox was surprised they didn’t play “Sweet Annie,” which seems like an obvious candidate to be a single off their new album Uncaged, and that they didn’t take advantage of Sonia Leigh, who opens for them, to perform together.

Speaking of which: this was a Hillbilly Hippie bunch, oh Lawdy. There was tie-dye, there was reefer wafting in the night air, there were beach balls a-plenty. And before any of it, there was a group of already drunken backwoods boys in unlaced work boots, falling apart Wranglers, torn shirts, cammo ballcaps and grizzled beards who approached the party in front of The Inky Jukebox who were rather more upscale. The girl was petite and immaculately groomed; her boyfriend looked maybe 16, and like he was about to go off to college in the morning, in 1955. “What up, Nigger Motherfucker!” one of the grizzly boys proclaimed, leaning in to give Mr. Varsity a bro-hug. It could have been a comic scene, except for the deep aroma of sheer terror emanating from the clean-cut crew. It was very clear they had never met. The preppy folks gamely entertained the Mountain Men, standing for awkward photos, as if they were afraid they were about to slip into a Deliverance moment. One of the sweaty, gimpy bears got nacho cheese all over the girl’s iPhone, which the boyfriend endeavored afterwards to wipe off studiously with his shirt.

That’s love.

(Note to Clay Cook: When in the Pittsburgh region, don’t wear a Braves shirt. It incites the natives to belligerence.) 

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