Live Review : Zac Brown Band with support The Pierce Bros – Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne – 19 April 2017

Zac Brown Band at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne - 19 April 2017 Photographer: Peter Coates
Zac Brown Band at Margaret Court Arena, Melbourne – 19 April 2017
Photographer: Peter Coates

Review by Peter Coates

The Pierce Brothers are an Aussie duo of brothers Jack and Pat Pierce, offering a set of guitar and percussion country-folk delivered with punch and self-deprecating humour. Both brothers have strong and soulful voices, and most of the songs have a strong beat and some rabble-rousing choruses – opener It’s My Fault and Only One as examples, which all combined to bring the crowd alive……”we’re totally professional……done venues like this 100 times…….at home!”

The Records Were Ours was a wry take on relationship breakdowns, while Blind Boys Run featured both boys on guitars with an extended melodic riff shared between them over a pounding bass drum. Then a bit of political satire about the bloke in US with a funny haircut with Take a Shot featuring a frenetic guitar line, wild percussion beats and a harmonica break! The set closed with Golden Times and Flying Home, and there is no doubt these brothers have a solid future in the blues/folk/world music arena.

There is a pretty full house onstage for headliners The Zac Brown Band, with keyboards, drums, percussion, bass, three guitars and fiddle, and a few surprises in the set – opening with Homegrown and Uncaged, we were then treated to an almighty rendition of Kashmir from Led Zeppelin, which was followed by a wild and dirty cover of the Charlie Daniels classic The Devil Went Down to Georgia featuring duelling guitars and fiddle. This was the catalyst for the crowd to go nuts, with solid riffing, wild fiddle playing from Jimmy De Martini, and a drum solo to boot.

Keep me in Mind had the whole place singing along, with the band continually sharing the limelight, and then the keyboard intro to Colder Weather raised a huge cheer, with Zac Brown prowling the stage and showing what a powerful voice he has, a perfect fit for this emotive ballad, and generated a massive crowd reaction.

Funked up guitar intro to Loving you Easy saw guitarist Coy Bowles and keyboard player John Driscoll Hopkins swapping roles for the first of several switches in the set. Let It Go was a southern country rock classic delivered with enthusiasm by all nine of the band with the stripped down guitar\fiddle interlude and amazing harmonies being the highlights.

Every intro is met with a huge cheer with the flamenco / calypso feel of Toes bringing the rest of the crowd to their feet. The new song My Old Man, off the new record delivered a standard country message as an emotional acoustic verse and chorus over minimal backing, and then we got another Charlie Daniels style high-speed hoe-down in Whiskeys Gone with lyrics delivered at tongue-twisting pace, and another wild fiddle solo.

A real surprise for me to hear Bohemian Rhapsody delivered as if by Queen and Freddy Mercury themselves, performed as a tribute more than a cover, with a spine-tingling vocal delivery and multi-layers harmonies into the rocking segment, and absolutely no sign of any backing tapes here!

Zac delivered a warm tribute to Byron Bay, remembered from his first trip to Oz, and a dawn climb up Mt Warning, bringing to mind a haunting violin intro to Free / Into the Mystic as the sun rises behind the drumkit. There are so many layers to the songs between the keyboards, three guitars and violin all adding to the complexity, and with 4 or 5 piece vocal harmonies overlaying the melodies.

Day For the Dead offers a slightly discordant melody and builds up into a big rocking number with a brilliant piece of accappella to preface the prog-rock close, reminding me of classic Kansas! The set rolls on with the passionate delivery and intricate rhythms of Sweet Annie, and the communal singalong for the chorus of Tomorrow Never Comes, with some stunning work from the versatile fiddle player Jimmy De Martini, this time on guitar.

We see a slightly darker side of the band on one of the songs from the Grohl Tapes, in Let it Rain, with a harder edge but still distinctive ZBB style, with some precision off-beat drumming from Chris Fryar and distorted guitars from the keyboard player.

As She’s Walking Away brings us back to the ZBB standard feel of upbeat country folk rock and Day That I Die carries on in the same vein. A version of Isn’t She Lovely opens up the Santana-like Neon with a great solo from Coy Bowles and another blinder from Jimmy di Martini on violin as part of a Freebird-like instrumental workout, and then the man himself with some deft picking before the song morphs back into the cover version briefly to close.

A bittersweet Goodbye in Her Eyes followed, with an Eagles feel in the melody and harmony vocals, before the banjo lead into Beautiful Drug with the joyful chorus brought the crowd clapping and stomping to their feet, as a perfect way to end the set.

The keys and blasting powerchords of The Who’s Baba O’Riley opened up the encore, again a surprising choice to me – but then again, the band played Enter Sandman at Bluesfest – before closing the show with a riotous version of Chicken Fried.