“We love coming here and getting lost with y’all,” Zac Brown told the teeming Fenway crowd on Sunday night after he and his band ran through their gently breezy 2010 track “Knee Deep.” The feeling was obviously mutual during the second night of their two-night Fenway stint; while the setlist ranged widely, going from laid-back twang-and-sun odes like “Knee Deep” and their 2009 country chart-topper “Toes” to riff-heavy covers sourced from the discographies of Metallica and Rage Against the Machine, the crowd was there for whatever twists Brown and his band had on offer.
Credit the collective charm and musicianship of Zac Brown Band, whose 2008 breakthrough with the shuffling Southern-life ditty “Chicken Fried” set the table for their expectation-defying career. Combining down-home country vibes with the collective chops of a jam band and the impish crowd-pleasing energy of a bar band right before last call, Zac Brown Band has cut a distinctive profile over the past 10-plus years, touring stadiums with brawny rock shows while striking out in unexpected directions on record. Their forthcoming record, “The Owl,” features a writing credit from Canadian idol Shawn Mendes and production assistance from pop gurus like Max Martin and Skrillex; “Someone I Used to Know,” an “Owl” track the band played Sunday, has the expansive vibe of radio-ready dance-pop while being grounded in crisp riffing and Brown’s drawl.
Live, though, is where Zac Brown Band shines most brightly, and Sunday night’s show was a prime example of why. They recontextualized discographies — both their own and others’ — through juxtaposition, whether blending their own tracks like the vocal-harmony showcase “Colder Weather” with the Eagles’ lite-rock classic “Take It to the Limit,” or retrofitting the titular lyrics of Stevie Wonder’s “Isn’t She Lovely” so that they nestle into John Mayer’s early track “Neon.” (The latter was co-written by Zac Brown Band multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook.) They showed off their musical and vocal prowess on a grand-ambition cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a blown-out version of their psychedelia-tinged “Day for the Dead.” They flirted with the shaggy grandeur of “The Last Waltz” alongside opening act Lukas Nelson, turning his band Promise of the Real’s “Find Yourself” into a vibe-out session.
Sunday’s show was the 11th Zac Brown Band concert at Fenway so far, and it showed why they’ve been able to fill stadiums around the world time and time again; their blend of chops, spirit, and knowing exactly how to please a crowd has made them one of the summer concert season’s most reliable draws, always ready for a good time but also keenly aware of how to keep an audience on its toes.
Zac Brown Band
With Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real
At Fenway Park, Sunday (also Saturday)