Not once during his band’s two-hour performance Saturday night at the First Niagara Pavilion did lead vocalist Zac Brown dance, jump or run around the stage to hold the audience’s attention.
He didn’t have to.
From the moment the lights came up on Mr. Brown, who had traded his signature knit beanie for a black top hat, the audience was transfixed. As the Atlanta-based Zac Brown Band worked their way through about 20 original songs and a handful of well-received covers, they offered a compelling simplicity.
Known for varying their set list from show to show, the group kept the crowd guessing. They opened with “Uncaged,” the title song of their most recent album, and jumped between tracks from each of their three full-length releases. They also delighted the audience with energetic covers of Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” and The Marshall Tucker Band’s “Can’t You See.”
Although Zac Brown Band hit upon upbeat crowd-pleasers “Toes” and “Knee Deep,” their ballads offered the most powerful moments of the concert. The band capped off the first half of the show with a heart-wrenching rendition of “Goodbye In Her Eyes,” in which Mr. Brown showed off his vocal chops by belting, “I know you got somebody new now/All my candles have burned out/He’s gonna love the way you shine/So did I.”
As the sun set over the pavilion, the group transitioned into an acoustic session, and the concert mellowed slightly. In a rare moment of directly addressing the audience, Mr. Brown told the crowd that “Lance’s Song” was dedicated to a friend who had died in a car accident a few years earlier.
Zac Brown Band carried this type of refreshing candidness throughout the performance, and fans noticed. The less the artists seemed to be trying to impress the audience, the more the crowd engaged with the music. The last song of the regular set, “Colder Weather,” left Mr. Brown grinning genuinely and audience members on their feet.
The band delved deeper into rock for their encore, playing Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” and donning skeleton masks and suits for a macabre but energetic performance of “Day for the Dead.”
They kept the skeleton suits on to play their toe-tapping country song “Chicken Fried,” indicating that they weren’t afraid to defy expectations. For the band, the constant surprise seemed to be part of the fun.
Not that the audience minded. During a cover of The Charlie Daniels Band’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” Mr. Brown sang, “I done told you once/You son of a [expletive]/I’m the best that’s ever been.”
He may not have been referring to himself, but the audience sure seemed to think he deserved to be.
Marisa Iati; firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1891 or on Twitter @marisa_iati.