Not being a particular fan of the new brand of "modern" country music, I decided nevertheless, to give the Brad Paisley show a try. An "arena" country show is one of those things I've never really experienced, so it was interesting to compare the crowd with a rock show on the same scale. Other than boots and cowboy hats predominating, the energy and excitement seems about the same, and certainly a roar went up when Brad Paisley hit the stage after Darius Rucker's opening act, which featured his new country songs, blended in with classic Hootie and the Blowfish tunes like "Let Her Cry."
This tour is essentially a greatest hits showcase, and Paisley has an ample catalog of them to choose from, all familiar to the appreciative crowd -- "Water," "Waiting on a Woman," and "American Saturday Night" came early in the set list, as well as "Catch All the Fish," which is as close to a country power anthem as you're going to get. All these were accompanied by large video montages in the background, which was sometimes distracting and sometimes just as entertaining as the song being performed. I'm particularly thinking of "Celebrity" which has a cute video featuring his alter-ego, big-head Brad, who sort of looks like a CMA mascot.
While Paisley plays tribute to the country music legends that I grew up with like Willie, Johnny, and Loretta, in his song, "This is Country Music," I have to admit in my perhaps too-cynical and jaded heart, that it only served to emphasize what seems to be missing in his own songs. While I think Paisley has a fine voice and he's obviously a pretty good musician, the lyrics are loaded down with well-worn cliches and sprinkled liberally with random, patriotic shout-outs and the obvious targets of populist critique like online culture and, of course, "celebrity." It has a programmed effect that feels a little too slick and a little too neat to stand beside those images of country heroes flashing behind him on the screen: the rugged lines of heartache and hard-living etched in faces like Willie and Merle and George. With Paisley one gets the good-natured, comfortable, and golden-glowed nostalgia, and I'm just contrary enough to want more of what the old-timers could deliver in abundance -- belligerence, rebellion, weariness, and woe. It may not be all that popular, but it has the ring of truth.
Darius Rucker (formerly of Hootie) opened.
Into the crowd, Brad Paisley
Big-Head Brad makes a personal appearance.
Playing to the crowd
Wearing the white hat
Don't worry -- he didn't get beamed up by aliens.
[Photo credits: Lee Burchfield]