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Zach Bryan

Zach Bryan At The Wiltern

Zach Bryan mysteriously perched in the rafters.
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It was a phenomenon.

I haven’t seen anything like this EVER! Maybe the initial Taylor Swift tours, but that appealed to a different demo, the arena was full of young girls, whereas last night it was a positively adult crowd, albeit leaning female. And they SCREAMED!

I mean this was more akin to the Beatles than anything else I’ve encountered. Sure, the yelling quieted down quite a bit between songs, and I didn’t see anybody crying or fainting, but the mania was still there. HOW DID THIS HAPPEN?

Now the show started off with Charles Wesley Godwin. And at this point, the opening acts are substandard, no one’s doing their best to create an interesting bill, unless there are co-headliners, and I’ve been overwhelmed with commitments and I wasn’t planning on seeing him, but there was the issue of the parking.

The Wiltern does not have enough. There’s a structure, but it needs to be double the size to accommodate all the customers. As for the neighborhood… I don’t think I’d want to walk more than a block after eleven p.m., no, make that nine. Not that there are any spots anywhere near the venue. Furthermore, I know people who’ve had their automobiles broken into parking on the street, so…

On one hand I didn’t even want to go. But Zach Bryan is the hottest new act of the year, one of the hottest acts extant, and I’d made a commitment and…

I listened to Charles Wesley Godwin’s music AND IT WAS GOOD! I said to myself this guy would be worth seeing. And if I got there early enough I could get a spot in the structure.

I got there just after eight. They took my thirty bucks, but there were no more spaces, they parked me on the ramp itself. But at least I was inside.

Well, not right away, you see there was a LINE. Huh? I mean the headliner didn’t go on for almost an hour and a half, and traffic in L.A. is hell, and why were these people here so early?


As for the crowd itself…

You know a country crowd in L.A. They come from San Bernardino way. Not city denizens, but those who work with their hands, who are not loaded with bucks, who don’t quite look like they just came off the farm, but certainly do not look like they just came off of Melrose.

This was a Melrose crowd. People had on their LOOK!

Especially the women. They were dressed up in their finery, they weren’t just going to hear some music, they were going to a show and they were part of the show itself. And there were more than a few cowboy hats and the guys were just as clean-cut and I think I know who this audience is until…

The Wiltern is a ridiculous venue. They call it a club, but there’s not a person in the world who wouldn’t call it a theatre. And there’s still a balcony, with seats, but the floor is GA, i.e. general admission, i.e. standing room only, i.e. crowded, i.e. good luck seeing, never mind hearing.

I mean if you’re tall, maybe. But the slope of the floor is very gradual, and the stage is not that high, and if you’re in the back, with the best sightlines, you’re under the overhang and the sound just sucks. How could we treat people this way? Bring back the seats, that were there for DECADES!

As for the idea that people love to stand, I call b.s. And it’s not age, I lived through the sixties and seventies, when the Troubadour and the Roxy and the Fillmore East all had seats, never mind the arenas.

And the dirty little truth is no matter what the promoters tell you, they oversell when it’s GA. Believe me, if someone yelled FIRE! last night, a few people would have died, that’s how tightly packed the venue was.

But if it’s a hot act, people will put up with anything, they want to be there.


So eventually I was connected with one of the few seats on the floor. The script has totally flipped, now you’ve got to be connected with the venue, not the label. The label has to buy tickets, they only buy a few, and they’re far from the best. But I was steered to a private area on the side with seats, not under the balcony overhead, and I could see and hear and Charles Wesley Godwin went into his final number…

“Almost heaven, West Virginia
Blue Ridge mountains, Shenandoah River”

Yes, it was “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” A John Denver hit from 1971 that was pooh-poohed by all rockers, yet this young audience knew it by heart! Yes, they were young. Mostly twentysomethings. As far as the usual showbiz suspects, I only saw one, Mark Shimmel, the booker of the Dick Clark shows, like the AMAs and the ACMs…it’s a whole new generation.

So the crowd is singing along at the top of its lungs, and when the number is over, the guys in attendance start yelling USA!, USA!, USA!

Freaked me out, and Shimmel noticed it too.

What appeared to be a young Hollywood/Echo Park crowd was really…

I have no idea. They didn’t look like Trumpers. How many were Trumpers? And exactly who are we fighting these days, messed with my sensibilities.

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Now half an hour later Zach Bryan hits the stage…


WITH EIGHT PLAYERS!

Well, seven plus himself.

Let’s see, there was a drummer. And a slide player who doubled on banjo. And a bass player who started on a standup double, before migrating to an electric. And a fiddle player. And a lead guitarist. And another guy who doubled on keyboards and guitar. And way in the background, another guy on a blond Les Paul.

Hard drives? NOWHERE IN SIGHT! This was positively real, positively organic. And the players were the contemporaries of Bryan, who is twenty six, we had none of the cognitive dissonance we see with the old acts, who are grizzled, yet supported by youngsters.

And anybody with any road knowledge knows that carrying so many players adds costs and eats into your profits. I can’t imagine Zach Bryan is making any real bucks here. But it’s about the sound. It’s totally different from the Spotify Top 50.

And Zach starts strumming, AND EVERYBODY IS SINGING ALONG!

Now that may be de rigueur these days, but you’ve got to know, Zach Bryan’s first major label album, “American Heartbreak,” was only released on May 20th of this year, AND IT HAS 34 SONGS!

I mean that’s quite a commitment. Especially in this multi-input era. You’ve got streaming television, social media and other music, and you played these thirty four tracks enough to know them by heart?

But wait! Zach Bryan put out another album, “Summertime Blues,” on July 15th, with nine more songs!

I’m positively stunned.

I remember seeing new acts in the old days. Seeing James Taylor right after the release of “Sweet Baby James”…people hadn’t memorized the material, if they even knew it. Back then people were drawn to shows by the hit, they didn’t know the rest of the material. Now it’s completely the opposite. Credit streaming, with everything available. But still, the commitment!

And all the B.S. of the regular music business… You know, CDs and vinyl to goose the “Billboard” chart numbers…it’s absent.

This is like the old days, the sixties and seventies, more the latter.

But wait, as much as these people knew the material, IT’S STILL AN INSIDE SCENE! As many people who are hip to Zach Bryan as there are, most Americans are still CLUELESS! I mean the mania is hiding in plain sight. And there’s been press, stories about Bryan’s quality and success, but press means little these days.

And it is all about the music, and the music is GREAT!

Sure, Bryan has a bit of a twangy voice, but the songwriting is up there with the greats. Proving that the audience recognizes, and rewards, greatness. In an era of schlock, of mediocrity, of paint-by-numbers good, the left field great can still triumph.

And Bryan built it himself. With indie records. Aren’t we supposed to sell our souls to the devil to make it, get in bed with the company men? It’s supposed to be too hard to do it alone, especially if you come from nowhere.

And this guy was in the military, which is not known as a creative haven, the innovative players from the Navy… You’re supposed to have your head up your rear end so far, be so into boozing and womanizing, being a bro, that you’ve got no sensitivities. Yet Bryan…

And, in the middle of a number, Bryan stopped the show. Dead quiet. And pointed to some people down in the pit. And the crowd started chanting USA!, USA!, again, but Bryan put his hand down to shush them. And security came down and escorted the distressed woman out of the venue and then Zach picked up again in the middle of the song. Why is it the big stars don’t do this? They never accept responsibility, they say they can’t see, that they’re unaware, they’re afraid of upsetting the audience, but not Bryan.

And it’s number after number and…

It’s more akin to the Grateful Dead than anything on country radio. Deadheads won’t like this, but the truth is the Dead’s material was in most cases far from stellar and live they were untogether, whereas Bryan has superior material and his band was tight and firing on all cylinders.

And it is a rock story. Those of you pooh-poohing Bryan, believing he’s a country nitwit, are unaware that he charted twenty songs at rock radio from “American Heartbreak” alone. Only three made it into the top twenty, and the highest one is only twelve and…

There are six charted rock songs from “Summertime Blues,” with one going to number ten, albeit the next highest only being twenty six and…

Only seven charted country singles. With the highest chart number being twenty four.

So if you think Zach Bryan’s success is a result of country radio airplay, you’re sorely mistaken.

And terrestrial airplay is nearly meaningless anyway. You mean the people too cheap to pay for SiriusXM and/or Spotify are going to pony up all that money for a ticket? I don’t think so. The people in attendance looked like they never listened to the radio. To listen to terrestrial radio is even worse than to have your text show up in a green bubble in iMessage. Come on, when was the last time ANYBODY told you they heard something on terrestrial radio? Maybe they listen to NPR, or news, but music? Other than the radio station people blowing back in my e-mail, I don’t know who in the hell is listening.

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I’d be lying if I told you I knew the material as well as the audience, but…

“He was a boy who was a dreamerAnd he flew so high and proudIn a world full of people out to cut his young ass downNo one ever understood a single word he saidAnd they cast him to the wolves when he wasn’t well and fed
Boys we’ve got a riser, a riser in our midstAnd he will get the last laugh if it’s the last thing he didAnd he used to roll around in that red dirt mudBut now he’s skipping town, and that riser’s out for blood
Don’t stop goin’, goin’ South‘Cause they’ll let you play your music real damn loudDon’t stop headin’, headin’ South‘Cause they will understand the wordsThat are pouring from your mouth”

“Heading South”

These are better words than Springsteen has written THIS CENTURY!

All this veneration of Bruce, who seems mostly spent, now doing a covers record, whereas Bryan is spewing truth, writing like Bob Dylan, constantly.

This is the opposite of the Spotify Top 50, which is less about music than branding, where we have to constantly hear that the “singer” is better, richer, more connected than we are, whereas Zach Bryan is relatable, one of us. Hell, he hit the stage in a t-shirt, something that looked like he hangs out in, rides his motorcycle wearing, that is not a designer pick for the show, it reeked of authenticity without any posing, after all it was baggy and stretched.

“And that boy, he called his daddy to tell him what he did As the masses screamed the lyrics of a messed up kid And then he told that old man he was never coming back To be cut down again in a town like that

Then he surely came to learn people come to watch you fall But he’s out to make a name and a fool out of ’em all They’ll never understand that boy and his kind All they comprehend is a f…ing dollar sign”

“Heading South”

Steely Dan are never going back to their old school, and neither is the protagonist of this song. Captain of the football team? Class president? Popular? That’s not this guy, he’s singing about ALIENATION, which used to be the key element of music, that’s why people related to it, why it was so powerful, it wasn’t passive entertainment, pablum.

“We get dressed up just to go downtown
In some ego-filled late night crowd
It seems to be where I feel most alone”

Alone together. This is how I feel. I’m there, but invisible, if anything an object of derision.
That’s from “Burn, Burn, Burn.”

“To you I’m just a man, to me you’re all I am Where the hell am I supposed to go”

These lines are from Zach’s “Something in the Orange,” his most popular song on Spotify, with 128+ million streams. The former line is akin to the words of Jackson Browne, but the latter shows vulnerability men almost never evidence. They bury their feelings, they buck up, but Zach Bryan is singing how they feel, which is what they’re looking for, no one else is verbalizing these feelings, especially someone who doesn’t look like an art kid.

And the final number, the encore, was an endless take of “Revival,” with Charles Wesley Godwin and his band and a few stragglers on stage to boot, it looked like nothing so much as Mad Dogs & Englishmen. Although it was definitely American.

And everybody got an extended solo, evidencing these nameless players could, play, that is. It’s like WHERE HAVE THESE GUYS BEEN? Kenny Chesney is out with great players, but they’re far older. In a hip-hop, electronic world, these guys took the other path, the one that’s become overgrown with weeds over the years. Sure, there’s the pandering Nasvilleites, but that’s not Zach Bryan.

“Your transgressions are mine as well
Anger grows in my bones if you could not tell
But I’ll find comfort in company
Lord forgive us, my boys and me”

That’s what we’re all looking for, bad company, and I can’t deny.
And that’s what it was like last night. All the people…the watching was incredible. Who are they, where do they live, what do they think, would they be fun to hang with?

The girls hanging over the railing behind me, were they drawn by Zach himself? He’s not a classic party boy, but that’s not what real people are looking for, they’re hungry for authenticity.

Now Zach Bryan won’t be new for that much longer. And when he’s around for a couple of years, that’s when the backlash usually begins. But oftentimes there’s a reason for that, not only is the material not as good, they’ve sold out, become part of the other, hanging with celebrities, loving everybody.

That ain’t Zach Bryan, just listen to his music. He’s angry, bubbling inside, in search of meaning and happiness, knowing it’s an all life endeavor, that you can never rest on your laurels, and compromising yourself to be a member of the group, to get ahead, is anathema.

I’m hipping you to all this.

But maybe you’re already hip.

Zach Bryan is an artist. And his music is not retro, but positively of the now. Check it out.

Zach’s set list at the Wiltern: https://spoti.fi/3F0CYV3

 

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