The air might have been heavy Sunday with dark clouds and the threat of tornadoes, but that was no matter for the crowd heading to the opening concert of the season at PNC Pavilion. Fold-out chairs with beer cup-holders and lowered pickup tailgates signaled outdoor concert season had arrived in the Queen City. Fans eagerly awaited an energized set from Zac Brown Band.
What they received in return for their $35-$100 ticket was a county fair-style DJ booth fully equipped with classic rock sing-a-longs that had thumpy drum beats reminiscent of Imagine Dragons — if Imagine Dragons had purposefully forgotten to write their own songs.
The show started just fine. Glimpses of summer nights hung lightly in the air in the form of singalongs Homegrown and Uncaged, but it was the song Knee Deep — a Jimmy Buffet collaboration without Jimmy Buffet — which marked the onslaught of unoriginal sounds: A minimum of 13 covers were intermingled with equal parts original content over the next couple of hours.
Their fourth song, a Kings of Leon cover of “Use Somebody,” set the tone that a good ZBB show is way better with other people’s music.
Somehow, the crowd remained patient as they kept waiting for more big hits to flow in — and they did, in the form of famous songs by Charlie Daniels Band, Allman Brothers, James Taylor, Van Halen, Simon & Garfunkel, Eagles, Van Morrison, Joe Walsh, Def Leppard, Rage Against the Machine and Pearl Jam.
Did the fans know they were here to see the Zac Brown Cover Band?
Finally, an original hit: The crowd went wild when Brown posed the question after “Toes”: “How many of your kids got to say ass for the first time? That’s what I’m here for.”
Of course, ZBB eventually did perform other big hits “Chicken Fried” and “Jump Right In”. Eventually.
Clearly growing weary, the crowd sat lifelessly through “Jeremy” by Pearl Jam and watched as Brown effortlessly proved he is no Eddie Vedder.
The hype surrounding a live Zac Brown show would surely lead you to believe they have entered the rock-and-roll hierarchy, but what Charlotte got to see Sunday night was a statuesque wonderbeard wearing a 5-gallon Pharrell hat overflowing with nods to various influential rock forces, while forgetting to give us something new.
If the recipe for good country music is to sound like the last good recipe for good country music, then this rehash tour of unremarkable sorts will hold its place via comfortable nostalgia for many years to come.
Editor’s note: An earlier version included an incorrect title for “Chicken Fried.” The article has been updated.