The Zac Brown Band kicked off their Jekyll + Hyde Tour Friday at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena, bringing their bombastic and unexpected album to life. Much like the album, the 26-song, two and a half hour show had moments of wheelhouse perfection mixed with left-field forays that made for an engaging and memorable night.
The band led the night with “Homegrown,” which recently hit #1 at country radio, and continued to tug patriotic heartstrings early on, celebrating themes of love-thy-neighbor and red-white-and-blue through their version of Jason Isbell’s “Dress Blues” – complete with color guard – and a cover of The Beatles’ “Let It Be.” The band was joined for “Dress Blues” by Jewell, who stuck around to wow crowds on “Mango Tree,” a big-band, Sinatra-style duet on the new album recorded with Sara Bareilles. Kid Rock also made a pre-intermission appearance, covering Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With.” Though band led with much of Jekyll + Hyde as well, with eight in the first half representing the album, they included some classics with much-practiced polish, such as “Knee Deep,” “As She’s Walking Away,” and “Sweet Annie.”
Though arena shows tend by nature to lean theatrical and production-heavy, ZBB led primarily with the music. The three-tiered stage, though replete with LED screens and flashy visuals, accommodated the 10+ musicians that held the audience’s attention through the show. Brown and company led the second half of the set with the heart-wrenching “Colder Weather,” and while his stage presence isn’t necessarily the most commanding, the music most certainly is, and Bridgestone was invested through the heartfelt moments as well as the “cold beer on a Friday night” of “Chicken Fried.”
The back half of the show comprised a wide variety of sounds as well, from the uptempo “Day for the Dead” to their tour staple, “Free” / “Into The Mystic,” to the EDM-leaning frenzy of “Beautiful Drug.” The band even reached for a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which was met with great enthusiasm by the crowd. Bela Fleck joined the group for the encore, which consisted of “Tomorrow Never Comes” and the most theatrical and off-the-wall moment all night with “Junkyard,” the Pink-Floyd-sampling song which featured chain gang attire, sinister spotlighting, a giant conga-line dragon costume, and perhaps even a nod to Pink Floyd’s inflatable tour pigs (sans the escaped one over London) with pig faces that appeared on the head of each segment of dragon body.
Not that it felt fully polished yet – there were lulls between several songs, where the darkened set seemed to press pause on the energy in a way that confused more than smoothed the transitions. But the Zac Brown Band is comprised of incredible musicians with a long history of wowing large rooms, a skill that was in full force at Bridgestone Arena last night. It’s a don’t-miss, whether for the strength of their classics or the experimental new songs.
Tour dates and ticket information can be found here.