It was the last day of March on the dock of the bay at St Kilda but this Georgian octet planned to keep the heat burning on their return as headliners in the deepest south.

They opened for Jason Mraz Band on their 2013 summer debut at the Myer Music Bowl.

So it was apt they kicked off their 22 song set with Homegrown - from seventh album Jekyll & Hyde - with new bassist Matt Mangano and percussionist Daniel De Los Reyes who joined up when it recorded sixth album Uncaged .

Those two tracks were a segue of sorts to Led Zeppelin cover Kashmir - an aberration - before violinist Jimmy De Martin led the charge on more apt Charlie Daniels classic The Devil Went Down To Georgia.

It was clear this was going to be a much louder and, at times, grungier performance than their Myer Music Bowl show.

Or maybe the audience was a little older and closer to the speakers.

Peace reigned on their big hit Colder Weather - definitely not a climate change tune - that enabled Brown's vocals to do it justice.

Brown, who was soon to have more guitar changes than lead guitarist Clay Cook, explained the band suffered severe studio fever after four months of captivity so perhaps this was their public escape.

In recent interviews he also revealed the band was broadening its musical base.

Maybe that's why Zac swapped his trademark woolen beanie for a dark top hat.

The sessions enabled them to showcase new tune Castaway that remained true to their country calypso rhythms from the new album set for release here in April.

Brown switched to acoustic guitar when energetic, pony-tailed John Driskell Hopkins took over lead vocals on their cover of Metallica hit Enter Sandman with demonic eye movements to illustrate “sleeping with one eye open.”

Hopkins heat seeking was accentuated by the psychedelic strobe light show that seemed likely to ignite long dormant acid trips of patrons of the venue in the sixties when the Stones first rolled into St Kilda.

But Brown relived a trip of his own as he introduced Keep Me In Mind from fifth album You Get What You Give.

In response to a loud voice from the bleachers he retorted “I thought I told you to stay in the truck.”

It was not Floridian mentor and duet partner Jimmy Buffett who was absent from his duet role in another melodic hit Knee Deep - one of their 12 #1 country hits.

Brown's band members were let loose from their studio and stage asylum in what seemed like a bizarre and hilarious cover of Bohemian Rhapsody - made famous by Queen who were booed when they played the 1974 Sunbury pop festival.

There was little danger of that here when Brown returned to lead vocals on their original hits Goodbye in Her Eyes and the bluegrass romp in Whiskey's Gone .

Brown shared stage antics and musicianship with his energetic band of gypsies for other hits Who Knows and the evocative Sweet Annie before heading back to the islands for Toes.

It's not clear why they covered Pink Floyd hit Comfortably Numb - maybe it was the lighting - before a return to an original, Natural Disaster.

Brown returned the audience to days of yore with a plethora of percussion, drum and guitar solos.

There was little banter - apart from remarking on the joy of the capacity audience to sing along with their hits.

But Brown did reveal that long before his band hit the big time he visited Byron Bay during a private holiday to catch up with Australian friends.

That was when he wrote their huge hit Free on the northern NSW coastal beach.

It was a far superior song to another hook heavy new tune Heavy Is the Head , recorded with Chris Cornell of Soundgarden - that suffered from wall of sonic distortion.

But the band achieved its aim - the song became its first #5 hit on the Billboard rock charts the same week.

There was a different energy when the band revived its breakthrough hit Chicken Fried , replete with tribute to allied troops.

No danger of fans not being treated to an encore of diverse shades.

The band changed tempo for its cover of John Mayer hit Neon/ Isn't She Lovely.

Brown then warned parents to remove children from the Palais before their finale.

Despite attracting a surprisingly large number of primary school children on holidays there was no mass exodus for Rage In The Machine tune Killing in the Name .

That was not, I suspect, a troops tribute.

So the verdict?

Well, I guess my hopes were high after their 2013 Myer Music Bowl debut.

I love Zac Brown Band records where their superb instrumentation compliments Zac's vocals on narratives and songs that traverse diverse subjects and social comment.

But tonight maybe too many rock covers and Brown classics such as Highway 20 Ride, Cold Hearted and The Wind were left on the shelf.

Perhaps shorter instrumental solos would have allowed more time for originals.

If covers are necessary to break up the originals they have plenty of Dixie rock material played in U.S. concerts.

The new album is expected to signal a change in musical direction.

Hopefully, the eclectic music the band is renowned for will return to an increasingly pop choked country radio and triumph.

Review by David Dawson

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