Zach Bryan brings out Packers’ AJ Dillon, skips biggest hit, at sold-out Milwaukee concert

Zach Bryan has become an unlikely salt-of-the-earth superstar, all but selling out his Fiserv Forum show Wednesday just nine months after selling out the 23,000-person-capacity American Family Insurance Amphitheater during Summerfest.

But there was one slight at his latest Milwaukee concert that made me a little salty.

The Oklahoma native played 28 songs during his two hours and 10 minutes on stage Wednesday night. Generous, to be sure. And yet, not one of them was “Something in the Orange,” his mainstream breakthrough and most popular song on Spotify, with nearly 774 million streams, and well over 1 billion streams overall.

It’s his choice to play what he wants, and some artists, like Bob Dylan, have earned admiration by defying expectations, including from yours truly. 

But for a newish, stadium-bound artist to skip the song that likely made most of the folks at Fiserv Forum fans in the first place — many of whom paid hundreds for their tickets Wednesday — it was pretty inconsiderate. 

Zach Bryan performs for his

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Perhaps fans will take more offense from this criticism than from Bryan’s omission. I wager I’ll find out soon enough. 

If there were any hard feelings from his Wisconsin fans, Bryan worked overtime to smooth things over. I lost count of the number of times he humbly thanked the crowd, sheepish even that they were seeing him perform on a weeknight, and repeatedly muttered “I hope you guys don’t hate it” when introducing a song.

And he made lyric swaps several times, incorporating “Wisconsin” or “Milwaukee” into multiple songs, including “Tishomingo,” “Highway Boys” and “Burn, Burn, Burn.”

And most crucially he brought out a Packer — No. 28, AJ Dillon.

Dillon was among the entourage returning to the stage for the encore, an 11-minute rendition of “Revival,” enjoying his role as hype man, banging a mallet on a drum and repeatedly helping himself to a microphone to sing a chorus. Meanwhile, Bryan’s seven bandmates, now decked out in Bucks jerseys (and one wearing a Cheesehead), took turns with blistering solos on guitar, drums, banjo and more.

“Revival” was far and away the most animated moment of the night, as it was at his Summerfest show last summer. But Wednesday’s concert made Bryan’s limitations as a physical performer plainer to see.

This tour is designed in the round, with Bryan and the bandmates on stage in the center of the arena floor. That setup seemed to spread Bryan a bit thin, who moved from microphone to microphone with machine-like duty to make sure he gave different sections of the arena some face time. At the same time, that interfered with the possibility of seemingly spontaneous, electric onstage interactions with his band of lifelong buddies from Oklahoma — moments that helped to make his Milwaukee show nine months back so magical.

But make no mistake: Bryan showed Wednesday that he has a very charismatic, if understated, stage presence. Time and again, as he sang and strummed his guitar, all he had to do was offer a little more volume, a bit more growl in his voice, and the entire arena would start singing three, four, five times as loudly.

The Fiserv Forum crowd didn’t get to sing “Something in the Orange” on Wednesday night. But they offered passionate singalongs for songs like “Dawns” and “Oklahoma Smokeshow,” and spontaneously whipped out smartphone lights, setting the twinkling mood for “’68 Fastback” and “Sweet DeAnn,” the latter a warm tribute to Bryan’s mother.

And anyone who saw the admittedly superior Summerfest show just nine months ago was treated to several new songs Wednesday.

There was a very rare live performance of “Traveling Man,” complete with Bryan’s own glowing harmonica licks. And he revealed Wednesday that he’s going to release a new album sometime this year — a summer 2025 American Family Field tour stop, perhaps? — performing three songs set to appear on the new collection: the blustery “The Great American Bar Scene,” and the more solemn “Better Days” and “Solemn.” (The crowd grew antsy during the latter two, but I imagine those songs will grow on them.)

Bryan also busted out two songs from last fall’s “Boys of Faith” EP, including “Nine Ball” (accompanied by clips of the Matthew McConaughey-starring music video on the stage’s screens). And there were six songs from his self-titled album released last August, including heart-smashing standout “I Remember Everything,” his Grammy-winning collaboration with Kacey Musgraves.

“Pictures and passin’ time/You only smile like that when you’re drinking,” Bryan sang quietly during the chorus Wednesday. “I wish I didn’t, but I do/Remember every moment on the nights with you.”

Gritty, gripping slice-of-life songs like that one, combined with the exuberant energy from fans at his shows, have already earned Bryan comparisons to Bruce Springsteen.

But the Boss sure as hell wouldn’t skip “Born to Run” in concert.

The Middle East opens for Zach Bryan and his

5 takeaways from Zach Bryan’s Milwaukee concert, including openers the Middle East and Levi Turner

  • AJ Dillon wasn’t the only Wisconsin guy on the stage Wednesday. Close followers of the Milwaukee music scene would have briefly noticed longtime sound engineer and Beatallica member Jeff Hamilton briefly on stage in the middle of “Revival.” Hamilton was dressed as a doctor (complete with white lab coat and stethoscope), and checking in on banjo player Read Connelly, who appeared to have died, only to make a “miraculous recovery” in time for his solo. Hamilton is the traveling sound engineer on the tour.
  • Another noted Wisconsin resident wasn’t on the stage on Wednesday. When Bryan kicked off his tour earlier this month in Chicago. Kacey Musgraves made a surprise appearance to sing “I Remember Everything” with him. So it wasn’t beyond the realm of possibility that Eau Claire-born-and-based Justin Vernon might end up appearing at the Fiserv Forum show to perform last year’s Bryan collaboration, “Boys of Faith.” Alas, Vernon was a no-show, and surprisingly, Bryan, a noted Bon Iver fan, didn’t even mention Vernon when introducing the song or at any point during the set.
  • Bryan’s Milwaukee concert was virtually sold out leading up to show time, but some tickets were released earlier in the day Wednesday. The starting price was still high: a minimum $270 for two to five tickets (some of those marked “obstructed views”), or $420 if you were flying solo. With fees, those two tickets were $540, and the single ticket with fees was $522.97. And to think Bryan played a Summerfest “free” stage less than two years ago. 
  • The in-the-round setup was quite debilitating for Bryan’s two openers. I was sitting in Section 103, and the way first opener Levi Turner and his-five piece band were positioned, their backs were turned to my section and about two-thirds of the audience. (A front-on, static medium shot of the band projected on four different screens didn’t help much.) It was clear, based on the Georgia native’s sober alt-country originals, why he was the first artist signed to Bryan’s record label — but only “Breathe,” with its lifting fiddle, managed to overcome the setup. 
  • The more seasoned Australian folk rockers the Middle East fared better — although their backs were also turned to about two-thirds of the audience, an even more frustrating prospect considering this was one of the band’s first shows outside of their home country in 14 years. They nevertheless expressed gratitude, and at least their music was heard live Wednesday by some 15,000 people (those who weren’t talking, anyway). They also got a lift from some actual lighting cues, while songs like “Months,” which juxtaposed Bree Tranter’s soft vocals and light flute with grooving low end, still managed to make a connection. 

Zach Bryan’s Fiserv Forum setlist

  1. ”Overtime”
  2. ”Open the Gate”
  3. ”God Speed”
  4. ”The Great American Bar Scene”
  5. ”Fifth of May”
  6. ”Tishomingo”
  7. ”Oklahoma City”
  8. ”Nine Ball”
  9. ”Boys of Faith”
  10. ”East Side of Sorrow”
  11. ”’68 Fastback”
  12. “Traveling Man”
  13. ”Better Days”
  14. ”Tourniquet”
  15. ”Condemned”
  16. ”Oklahoma Smokeshow”
  17. ”Smaller Acts”
  18. ”Dawns”
  19. ”Highway Boys”
  20. ”I Remember Everything”
  21. ”Heavy Eyes”
  22. ”Heading South”
  23. “Sandpaper”
  24. ”Burn, Burn, Burn”
  25. ”Hey Driver”
  26. ”Sweet DeAnn”
  27. ”Quittin’ Time”
  28. ”Revival”

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