The biggest surprise about Wednesday’s taping of “Austin City Limits” with the Zac Brown Band at ACL Live is that the multiplatinum-selling Atlanta group had never played the long-running TV show before. They’re an obvious fit for the program: Not only does their country-rock sound fit with ACL’s historical aesthetic, but their willingness to branch out and work with artists such as ACL favorite Dave Grohl plays well to the show’s hipper 21st-century identity.
Brown and his bandmates made up for lost time with a 17-song set that drew partly from their new album “Welcome Home” but largely served as the kind of career overview that’s warranted when such a well-known act makes its first ACL appearance. Ardent fans reveled in the opportunity to hear Brown croon sweetly on the chart-topping ballad “Colder Weather,” and partied heartily when they unleashed their breakthrough smash “Chicken Fried” in the encore.
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Brown took care to pull from every album in the band’s decade-long major-label run that began with 2008’s “The Foundation,” still their biggest seller. But they threw some intriguing curveballs into the mix as well. On “Free,” a cut from “The Foundation,” they tapped into the version on their 2010 live album “Pass the Jar” by brilliantly incorporating a bit of Van Morrison’s “Into the Mystic.” Later, they paid tribute to their Southern-rock roots when keyboardist/guitarist Clay Cook sang lead on the Allman Brothers classic “Whipping Post,” a song the band has been playing regularly on tour since Gregg Allman’s death in May.
“Day for the Dead,” a high-energy, Latin-tinged workout from 2013’s “Grohl Sessions” EP that drew heavily on the percussion talents of Daniel De Los Reyes, helped re-energize the band mid-set after they’d settled into a too-easygoing groove with pleasant yet predictable numbers such as “Goodbye in Her Eyes” and “2 Places at 1 Time.” Throughout, Brown gave simple but heartfelt introductions to key songs from the new album such as “Family Table,” “Roots” and “My Old Man,” all of which followed the band’s aim “to try to write the most personal record we could possibly write,” Brown explained midway through the show.
The lone cover on “Welcome Home,” a splendid version of John Prine’s “All the Best,” kicked off a roof-lifting three-song encore. On the album, Kacey Musgraves sang on it with Brown; it might have been nice to hear the band tap into a local talent for her part, perhaps Kelly Willis. “Chicken Fried” followed and clearly was the song fans were most eagerly anticipating; all three tiers of the full house rose to dance and sing along.
The final word went to stage-left multi-instrumentalist John Driskell Hopkins, who’d starred all night on electric and acoustic guitar and banjo while anchoring harmonies with standout fiddler Jimmy De Martini. Stepping forth for a lead vocal, Hopkins channeled his inner James Hetfield as the band launched into Metallica’s iconic “Enter Sandman,” cranking up the volume and breaking down the barriers between country boot-scooters and metal headbangers.
The band returns to Austin on Sept. 17 for a concert at the Austin360 Amphitheater with special guest Darrell Scott.
2. Family Table
3. Quiet Your Mind
4. Sweet Annie
5. Day That I Die
6. Free/Into the Mystic
7. Goodbye in Her Eyes
8. 2 Places at 1 Time
9. Day for the Dead
10. Colder Weather
12. My Old Man
13. The Muse
14. Whipping Post
15. All the Best
16. Chicken Fried
17. Enter Sandman