Music Review: Zac Brown Band and Little Big Town at 9:30 Club
Friday, February 6, 2009
There's something paradoxical about screaming the lyrics of a Buffetesque ode to taking it easy. But don't tell that the 1,200 or so fans who packed the 9:30 club Wednesday night to declaim the chorus of "Toes" ("Toes in the water, [backside] in the sand/Not a care in the world, cold beer in my hand") back at the Zac Brown Band.
Riding the wave of its No. 1 country single "Chicken Fried" -- a slice of bluejeans-and-cold-beer-venerating Americana that reads as reassuring and/or unbearably hokey in these waning days of empire -- the Georgia group's homespun sound is built around Brown's warm, James Taylor-ific vocal timbre and Jimmy De Martini's white-lightning fiddle.
Fittingly, the group's 55-minute set opening for the country vocal quartet Little Big Town included a cover of the Charlie Daniels Band's "The Devil Went Down to Georgia," which featured a rousing De Martini-Brown fiddle-guitar duel that helped elevate the band's live show above the level of its often-generic (if well-crafted) material. Brown later embroidered his wanderlust ballad "Free" with a few verses of Van Morrison's "Into the Mystic," as if to demonstrate he has influences other than just the ones you can hear.
The resulting Brown sound seems to land in the sweet spot between the Dave Matthews Band and Kenny Chesney. Though perhaps "sweet" isn't the word everyone would use to describe that thar spot. Still, it's working just fine for the band. "The Foundation," the group's major-label debut, has been lodged in the top 10 on Billboard's country albums chart since its mid-November release and is No. 39 on the Billboard 200. And Brown's tendency to bathe even songs about a divorced father's estrangement from his kids ("Highway 20 Ride") in soothing acoustic sunshine may guarantee him a long and lucrative recording career.
After Brown's opening set, the 9:30 crowd seemed to thin slightly, but Little Big Town managed to defend its headliner status despite strong competition from the undercard. The band's energetic 90-minute performance included the crowd-pleasing "Boondocks" and slick, faithful covers of songs by such obvious influences as Fleetwood Mac ("The Chain") and the Eagles, whose "Heartache Tonight" brought the evening to a high-fiving close. Little Big Town's original songs might sound derivative, but as a platform for the group's close four-part harmonies, they're plenty good enough to keep the train rolling.
The band also offered up a few surprises. Opening the encore set with a cover of "Life in a Northern Town," the mid-'80s hit by the Dream Academy? You didn't see that one coming.