Mary Corlurso of The Birmingham News gave the concert four out of five stars (five being the best).  After reading her review, I wondered if she and I had attended the same concert.

She admitted, at least tacitly, that the band wasn’t its best, apologizing for Brown’s vocals and the band’s play list.  The band played very little of its own stuff, and nothing from its new album.  It played covers, including of all things, “Sweet Emotion”, by Aerosmith.  I figure Mr. Brown (34) is too young to have been at the late seventies Aerosmith concert in that very same Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center when the group was so stoned and discombobulated that they couldn’t even finish the song.  I was there and swore I would never listen to Aerosmith, buy their albums, or go to their concerts, again.  And didn’t.  Brown couldn’t have known how poignant was his decision that night to cover Aerosmith.

ZBB wasn’t stoned or discombobulated like Aerosmith.  Instead, leader singer Zac Brown explained that he had lost his voice.  Which was fine for Corlurso, because Brown raved about how he’d got his start at some of Birmingham’s music venues.  Which is undoubtedly true, as Brown is from Atlanta, and success always comes from everywhere, while failure knows no origins.  Birmingham’s cultural scene tries so hard to be cool and hip and relevant.  But of course it’s not–anyone or anything that tries to be hip and cool and relevant, by definition, fails in the exercise by trying.  And the pathetic striving looks particularly desperate when a prominent Birmingham concert reviewer glosses over a lousy performance by a band in return for the band acknowledging some connection, however tenuous, to Birmingham in its rise to acclaim.

The Zac Brown Band appears to be afflicted with much the same problem as beset Aerosmith back in the seventies:  It got too big too fast, and ironically, considering how it fawned over Birmingham as one of its founding venues, forgot from whence it came.  It forgot that the road to nearly selling out an 18,000 seat arena passed through long nights playing Dave’s Pub and The Nick (local haunts Brown mentioned of his Birmingham origins in his lame attempt to appease his inability to sing), and bringing it every single night.  Show up without being able to sing, but still expecting to be paid, and you don’t get asked back.  Show up and play stuff no one expects you to play, and you don’t get asked back.  And for today, charge gargantuan sums of money to folks coming to see you play in a nearly-full 18,000 seat arena and fail to deliver because you can’t sing–not even doing one song off your new and wildly popular album–and the people won’t return when you ask them back. 

Here’s the thing for artists/entertainers of any type, including athletes, musicians, actors, writers–anyone who makes their living entertaining people–don’t ever mail it in; don’t ever not bring it.  All it takes is one bad play, one bad concert or album, one bad movie or one bad book, and your carefully crafted reputation for excellence (else you wouldn’t have succeeded thus far) is shot.  It can be rehabilitated, but doing so takes time and almost as much effort as creating the reputation in the first place. 

Aerosmith dropped off the radar screens for almost two decades after their late seventies touring disasters before finally being resurrected when rappers discovered their rhythms and started covering their stuff.  It was a whole new audience by then, one not old enough, like ZBB is today, to remember how awful they’d been before.  The Zac Brown Band might want to leave the road to regroup and reconsolidate and rediscover what it is that got them where they are now, or they may soon be serving a decades-long purgatory just like that other band that couldn’t (or didn’t) play its own songs. 

I’d give the concert one star (poor).  If Zac Brown couldn’t sing, he should have canceled the concert and refunded the money.  There is no excuse for a bad performance.  None.  If a singer is incapacitated for any reason, including drugs, illness, etc., he is a fraud if he takes money for performing when he can’t sing.  Simple as that.