MANSFIELD — The Zac Brown Band is undoubtedly popular; unpopular bands don’t sell out the 20,000-plus seats at the Comcast Center, like Brown did Sunday.
But the Georgia’s septet’s path to popularity seems a little dubious. The Zac Brown Band came in through the country door, but it spent more time in concert covering Aerosmith, Nirvana, Van Morrison, Stevie Wonder, and John Mayer songs than on anything fitting a traditional country mold. The band’s originals likewise hew closer to Southern rock, though easily shape-shift from the breezy Buffet-esque “Toes,” to the folk-rock of the new “One Day,” to the Dave Matthews Band caricature “Who Knows” (rendered with not one, but two long, pointless guitar solos). And just to make sure he was covering his bases, Brown deployed two rappers to beatbox and rhyme during a drum jam that launched the encores.
The Zac Brown Band simply tries too hard to please and ends up sounding like a ruthless bar band, albeit one with killer gear and great production value.
Being more broad than deep doesn’t always work. The band’s acoustic version of Nirvana’s “All Apologies” certainly triggered an “I love that song” reaction, yet was smoothed out and absent the dread of the original; these effervescent dudes could just as easily been playing “Brown Eyed Girl.”
Brown’s band certainly has talent and charm. Brown is a burly, big-voiced singer who sports a trademark knit cap even on the summer tour circuit and can put an edge on his acoustic guitar playing. With two drummers, two guitarists who can hop over to keys and other instruments, a bass player with baritone backup vocal chops, and a fiery fiddle player, the Zac Brown Band has ample ability to stuff its two-hour show with, well, stuff.
Opening with “Keep Me in Mind” and “Knee Deep,” the band bent its twang around a chipper pop groove. Before getting comfortable there, they busted out the honky-tonking “It’s Not OK,” then cruised into the Southern rock of “Uncaged.”
Brown kept spinning that dial, hitting the tender “Colder Weather” and “Free” (paired with Morrison’s “Into the Mystic”), the rowdy “The Wind” and “Jump Right In,” and the covers, including Mayer’s “Neon,” Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion,” and Charlie Daniels’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia.” If there’s an award for pleasant efficiency, Brown deserves it.
Opener Levi Lowrey captured a wistful air in his bluesy country tunes, and brought it to the Zac Brown Band’s set, performing “Wherever We Break Down” with the headliners.Scott McLennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter@Scott