America, it’s time to accept it: The days of saying you “listen to everything but country” are long gone, and Saturday Night Live‘s 40th season has proven this in a matter of two episodes featuring two of the genre’s most unapologetically boot-stompin’ poster dudes.
Zac Brown Band made their SNL debut last night, a performance that probably should’ve happened when Brown and his crew were on the rise instead of long after they started hanging out with Dave Grohl, lending their assistance to Sonic Highways and selling out arenas and stadium tours by the handful. A ZBB SNL episode couldn’t have happened before this, largely because country’s proliferation into mainstream music is now at an undeniable point, which wasn’t the case when the only one to get away with a twangified SNL set pre-2015 was Taylor Swift. In the wake of Blake Shelton’s cringe-worthy, cliché-heavy turn on the Studio 8H stage and the overwhelming popularity of Nashville, Brown and company were basically handed a pristine opportunity to do one of two things. They could show up, strum their stuff, and serve as a reminder that strong songwriting and pristine vocal chops lay the foundation for a decent country tune, or they could do as Shelton did and bank on the YEEEE-HAW predictability of the genre’s most eye-roll-inducing attributes.
Thankfully, Zac Brown Band went with the former.
For “Homegrown,” Brown and his band (with a special shout-out to the ponytail-sporting dude in the back enthusiastically taking the bongos to task) soared over tightly wound harmonies and wholesome sentiments that no one would smirk at if Petty sang ’em. Swilling whiskey out of the bottle, small-town sensibility, and an emphasis on “home” has Brown tethered firmly to his Southern roots, but he’s so unblinkingly sincere about it that his performance is difficult to fault or mock, clunky bridge be damned. (Still got a problem with his headgear choice, though. Last time we checked you weren’t a musketeer, compadre.)
And this is where the whole “BEHOLD THE RELEVANCE OF COUNTRY” thing comes into play. With “Heavy Is the Head,” Brown’s latest, fresh-from-release single and collaboration with Soundgarden and Audioslave’s Chris Cornell, the band breaks out of the expectations stipulated by their anchored genre and explode into a din of metal and grunge guitar wails. It’s overwhelming, excessive, dated, and distorted — and that’s why it works, as it proves that a bunch of guys used to finger-pickin’ can trade in the banjos and fiddles for some serious fucking ax-work with aplomb. (They probably should’ve, actually, as that fiddle looked and sounded woefully out of place throughout “Heavy.”) Cornell and Brown play off each other with the ease that comes from decades of earned stage time. “Heavy Is the Head” offers nothing new to the poppier strains of hard rock and grunge, but it does demonstrate how seriously Brown means business, and how he’s willing to be a scapegoat or an unsung hero for a quintessentially American genre in flux — even if he’s gotta weather a ton of hat jokes to do so. (But really, bud, we’d have less to complain about if you’d stop stealing from Alice Cooper’s reject pile.)
Twitter was relatively quiet in the wake of ZBB’s late-night grits-and-grunge fest, but the new single went over well with audiences, including one famous fan who spent time with his TV instead of Donkey Sauce last night.
BUT WHAT DID YOU SNACK ON WHILE YOU WERE WATCHING GUY WAS IT HOT CHICKEN
— Guy Fieri (@GuyFieri) March 7, 2015
Somewhere, James Hetfield is frantically googling heavy-metal milliners and looking into bringing a banjo player on Metallica’s next tour.
So the second Zac Brown Band performance on SNL from last night seems to be maybe one degree removed from prog metal. I’m okay with that.
— Adam Lipkin (@Tsalmoth) March 8, 2015
Kind of hit you like a “Black Hole Sun” amirite?! (Haaa.) (Yes we know that’s a Soundgarden song, whatever.)
— Morgan Province (@morgancheeseman) March 8, 2015
This is a real tweet.
Zac Brown Band was on SNL and they didn’t even play Chicken Fried I’m so disappointed like what I can’t even how could they I mean ugh
— meghan (@nut_meg96) March 8, 2015
NO BECAUSE YOUR LOGIC IS NOT SOUND.
— Chief’s Daughter (@V_Ollie88) March 8, 2015
Of all the descriptions to peg to Zac Brown Band, this is the one that hails from the farthest corner of left field:
Zac Brown Band is like a guitar orgy. But having Chris Carnell there was pretty cool. Leslie Jones & that last sketch killed me. #SNL
— William Becker (@theWforce) March 8, 2015
Wait – Did I just see Chris Cornell performing with The Zac Brown Band? I’m feeling weird feels. #SNL
— Joe Russell (@biggerlebowski) March 8, 2015
— Victoria Rock (@ToriRock) March 8, 2015
Ear game on point.
When Zac Brown Band came on #snl I wasn’t watching like, “This sounds like Soundgarden.” Then when I looked up it was Chris Cornell singing.
— Zane Banyan (@ZaniZanyZane) March 8, 2015
That would be Thor, so.
Zac Brown Band is cool. But who was that douschebag trying to be a life size Justin Bieber on #SNL
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