When you go to a Zac Brown Band concert, you expect the band to play certain hits — “Chicken Fried,” for example, and “Knee Deep.” But you’re also more than likely going to hear plenty of cover songs.
More than anybody else in country music, the Georgia-bread troupe relishes highlighting some of their favorite tunes and transforming classics that span all genres. The breadth and depth of the tunes that ZBB have covered over the years is rather staggering — who knew the band once did a snippet of The Simpsons theme?! — but also impressive … especially because it’s not as though these are tossed-off or half-formed covers; no, Brown and company take interpreting other people’s music very seriously.
The following are The Boot’s picks for the Zac Brown Band’s 10 best live covers.
(Originally by Jason Isbell)
ZBB’s Isbell cover ended up appearing on their most recent studio album, 2015’s Jekyll + Hyde; however, it started off as a stunning live cover, during which Brown and Co. crisply took the devastating tune — which is compassionate and supportive of soldiers while being subtly anti-war — and threw their collective hearts into it.
“Let’s Go Crazy”
(Originally by Prince)
Following Prince‘s death in April of 2016, ZBB began paying tribute to the late pop star with a high-energy, horn-peppered (and purple-drenched) cover of “Let’s Go Crazy.” The song demonstrates the band’s versatility and range, but was a natural pick: Its gospel overtones dovetail perfectly with the group’s soulful-but-celebratory bent.
(Originally by Dave Matthews Band)
Not all of ZBB’s live covers are meant to send a message or be taken seriously. The band’s take on DMB’s beloved “Ants Marching” possesses as much levity and joy as the original, and illustrates that the Zac Brown Band’s place in Southern music’s lineage spans far further than country.
(Originally by Queen)
Pretty much everybody’s covered this epic Queen tune in recent years; however, it takes a special kind of showman to tackle the song’s complex arrangements and expressive, acrobatic vocals … and Brown is certainly up to the task. He leaves the falsetto harmonies and keyboards to his bandmates and commands the stage with understated charisma — and a dynamic, solid singing performance.
(Originally by Billy Joel)
The most obvious difference between Joel‘s original and ZBB’s take? There’s actually no piano involved; instead, the group uses the cover as a stripped-down, acoustic breather, highlighting the lyrical narrative of the song and amplifying its melancholy. It’s far from sedate, however; in fact, the enduring, universal love for “Piano Man” often turns the song into a massive crowd sing-a-long overflowing with energy.
(Originally by Led Zeppelin)
This cover frequently appears right after ZBB’s own song “Uncaged,” and the transition is seamless: The roiling, almost psychedelic title track of 2012’s Uncaged is a perfect match for the thundering, string-laden Zeppelin classic.
(Originally by Aerosmith)
The Zac Brown Band’s take on this beloved classic rock tune is a barn-storming campfire jam brimming with perfect harmonies and strident acoustic riffing. It’s a fantastic version — one that transforms the song while not losing sight of what made the original great. Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler even showed up at Fenway Park in 2015 to work his magic and sing “Sweet Emotion” with the group — a seal of approval if there ever was one.
“Can’t You See”
(Originally by the Marshall Tucker Band)
This cover holds special meaning for ZBB multi-instrumentalist Clay Cook: Not only was he in the Marshall Tucker Band at one point, but his uncle, Doug Gray, is the band’s lead singer. Appropriately, Cook steps into the vocal spotlight for this cover — and nails the bluesy, wistful vibe of the song every time. In fact, he inspires the rest of his bandmates to get to greater heights as well, as “Can’t You See” frequently turns into a lengthy Southern rock jam.
(Originally by Metallica)
This song has grown into a ZBB live staple for two reasons: a lightning-quick Jimmy De Martini fiddle solo, and bassist John Driskell Hopkins doing his best impression of a tough metalhead. However, this Metallica cover is also a showcase of the group’s live power — and the way they’re not afraid to push themselves, both arrangements- and energy-wise.
“The Devil Went Down to Georgia”
(Originally by the Charlie Daniels Band)
Basically, Zac Brown Band were born to cover this beloved Charlie Daniels Band country hit. Not only does the song let each individual band member show off his chops — and head-spinning, fleet-fingered abilities — but it’s a nod to the group’s home state and a showcase of the ways that the country and rock genres complement and contrast with one another.