Review - Zac Brown Band @ Oracle Arena (11/6/22)

Zac Brown @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Zac Brown @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Zac Brown has never stopped reimagining his sound and concert experiences and the pandemic time seemed to fuel his creativity. After releasing The Comeback in 2021, he and his longtime co-conspirators in blending country and rock launched their most ambitious tour yet. As the stadium and arena tour finished its lap across America with Oakland Arena hosting the 31st of 32 shows, Zac Brown Band (ZBB) had lost none of their energy and kept a fresh (and in this case local) edge to their Sunday night show.

Zac Brown, Jimmy De Martini, and Matt Mangano of the Zac Brown Band @ Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Zac Brown, Jimmy De Martini, and John Driskell Hopkins of the Zac Brown Band @ Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Brown took the stage solo to announce that the concert staging would consist of three acts with a short intermission. Act One was a tribute to the ZBB’s bar band origin. Neon signs on wooden walls served as the d├ęcor with an American flag draped across the front of the keyboard and a bar set up stage right with a bartender and two thrilled fans occupying the stools. Brown spoke about how he honed his connections to audiences by looking at the shoes they were wearing and figuring what cover song would resonate with him. After delivering a solo, acoustic rendition of “Toes”, he brought out the other members in staggered songs – taking time to tell the story of how each bandmate came to join ZBB. Longtime guitarist John Driskell Hopkins and fiddler Jimmy De Martini joined first to accompany him on a soaring “Free/Into The Mystic.” Keyboardist Coy Bowles, multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook and bassist Matt Mangano joined for a rollicking “Whiskey’s Gone” launched with an enthusiastic Brown announcing “Let’s pick one boys!” By the time act one closed with the Jimmy Buffet-inspired “Same Boat” off 2021’s The Comeback the complete 9-piece band lineup was on stage with drummer Chris Fryar, percussionist Daniel De Los Reyes and recently-added first female member Caroline Jones on guitar and vocals.

Robert Randolph @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Robert Randolph @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Robert Randolph & the Family Band had opened and got the jam started early with a tight and funky set where the pedal steel virtuoso and his core four-man band were augmented by an additional three-piece horn section. The man that Brown dubbed “The Pimp of Steel” was ably supported by guitarist Tash Neal’s extraordinary playing - channeling Hendrix and Prince. Randolph’s set alternated between covers (“I’m So Glad”, “Red House”, “Jesus Is Just Alright”) and songs from albums such as 2019’s Brighter Days. Named by Rolling Stone as one of the top 100 guitarists of all-time, Randolph and his band may have been a surprise pick for the more country-centric in attendance but fit perfectly into Brown’s “neighborhood jam” approach to his concerts.

ZBB behind the curtain @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)
ZBB behind the curtain @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)

ZBB’s Act Two began behind an illuminated curtain that dropped to reveal a much larger, multi- tier arena-size set with a giant backing screen, flanked by illuminated trees and topped with antler chandeliers. The large set was needed as the ensemble was expanded with the three- piece horn section and two backup singers joining in the fun. The band and near-capacity audience blasted off with “Keep Me In Mind” from 2011’s You Get What You Give and the second act reflected the power of the band’s arena and stadium-filling showmanship and musicianship. After Brown had grabbed an electric guitar for a heart-wrenching, anthemic rendition of 2013’s “Sweet Annie,” the band paid tribute to Bay Area metal heroes Metallica – delivering a full-size and full-volume rendition of “Enter Sandman” with guitarist Hopkins delivering the vocals. After Brown set down his guitar to croon “Loving You Easy,” he welcomed Randolph and Bay Area fiddler Carlos Reyes for “GA Clay.” The now 16-piece band lit fire on the 2021 song with Randolph unleashing a blistering pedal steel solo to lead into an explosive jam that came to a triumphant climax. The crowd stood and joined in for a singalong version of “Knee Deep” that segued into a cover of “You Are The Best Thing” before wrapping up Act Two with “The Devil Went Down To Georgia.” By now, it’s clear that Brown is the rightful heir to Charlie Daniel’s legacy and Sunday night’s version was an energetic monster that picked the crowd up and carried it to its highest point before releasing them for the final intermission.

Zac Brown Band's Second Act @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Zac Brown Band's Second Act @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Brown introduced Act Three as “The Super Band portion of the evening” as ZBB was joined by the entire Robert Randolph & The Family Band (for those keeping score, there were now 18 musicians on stage!). Every musician dressed in black and white, with Brown donning a black vest and white dress shirt with rolled up sleeves along with his signature hat. “Everyone up here has a voice and you are going to get to hear them all sing.” With that intro, the band launched into a near half-hour medley of classic covers - allowing each member their moment in the spotlight. Standout moments included Jones’ cover of Michael Jackson’s “The Way you Make Me Feel”, De Martini’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” and De Los Reyes’ with Pharrell’s “Happy.” Brown wrapped up the covers with Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up” and Bruno Mars’ “Fly As Me”.

Zac Brown @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)
Zac Brown @ the Oracle Arena (Photo: Sean Reiter)

Stripping back to the core band to close out the night, Brown unleashed the biggest heart- tugger of the night with a version of “Colder Weather” that transitioned into Eagles’ “Take It To The Limit” before coming back. He seemed legitimately moved at the end, as though holding back a few tears. That mood turned celebratory quickly with the first strums of “Chicken Fried” that launched a full arena sing-along and dance-along that was interrupted only briefly as Brown halted the band mid-song to introduce and honor a Bay Area World War 2 veteran on stage – a few weeks from his 100th birthday. Brown doffed his hat in appreciation before launching full-velocity back into the anthem. The band brought the nearly three hour musical journey to a close with 2015’s “Homegrown” and sent the Bay Area crowd home buzzing with joy and appreciation for the covers, ZBB classics and new favorites from The Comeback.

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Zac Brown Band Setlist Oakland Arena, Oakland, CA, USA 2022, Out In The Middle Tour

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