Brad Paisley Cynthia Woods Mitchell Pavilion July 29, 2013
Brad Paisley is doing just fine. The world may have scoffed at "Accidental Racist," but that hasn't stopped Paisley from filling amphitheaters coast to coast with fans who dig his brand of humor and earnestness.
What folks on the outside don't understand is that he's an artist who keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek, unless he's wearing his heart on his sleeve. Love, of a woman, of where he's from, or of his beloved country music make up the other half of the equation that has led him to be one of modern country music's biggest stars.
"Country music is better outdoors," Paisley told the crowd at the Mitchell Pavilion Sunday, and the open air -- with a healthy dose of alcohol mixed in -- made for quite the party atmosphere.
Paisley's stage show provides an interesting snapshot of country music in 2013, and not just in the lyrics of a tracks like "The World" or "Southern Comfort Zone." He has an app. He sings a duet with a creepily lifelike hologram of Carrie Underwood. He mixes the Americana of Andy Griffith and Captain America with lasers and well-rehearsed stage production.
Yes, he sings about driving down the backroads listening to old Alabama songs, but you better believe he'll be listening to them on a kick-ass sound system with an iPhone hookup.
On a performance level he puts together quite the package. Paisley can still cut a mean solo and he knowns when to let the crowd carry a song. He's also big enough that he can surround himself with a killer band equally at home with the country stomp of "Water," an acoustic take of "Online" (which he refers to as "The Ballad of Manti Te'o" ), or tearing through a rocking version of Van Halen's "Hot For Teacher."
It's the type of show for those who love a good fiddle solo or five, miss George Jones, and don't mind with the eventual Monday-morning hangover if it means a chance to sing some of their favorite songs with a bunch of like-minded folks.
Brad Paisley isn't out to change the world, but he is trying to make the world a better place in his own silly way. Look down your nose if you must at those who like songs about beer, getting mud on your tires, or checking your loved one for ticks. Paisley doesn't put out those songs for you. He goes to great lengths to remind everyone that he's part of a proud tradition that includes Johnny Cash, John Denver, and Garth Brooks. If you don't get it, you're missing out on a hell of a show.
But if you must know: no, he didn't play "Accidental Racist" and there was no digital LL Cool J. But there was a digital Charlie Daniels and, amazingly or surprisingly, that's country music in 2013.
Personal Bias: Some people say, "I don't like country music, but I like Johnny Cash." I don't like country music, but I do like Brad Paisley.
The Crowd: Short-shorts, boots, and cowboy hats for those looking to rock the classic country-show outfit. Lots of people with towels and umbrellas due to some earlier storms.
Overheard In the Crowd: "I hope they hand out biscuits after the show," said my partner in crime in response to Cracker Barrel being the main tour sponsor. They didn't. It was a bummer.
Random Notebook Dump: There's a fake Cracker Barrel storefront with rocking chairs and a giant version of that peg game they put on everyone's table. It's kind of amazing.
So How Were the Openers?: Lee Brice plays perfectly acceptable modern country songs that hit every single trope associated with the genre. That said,"Hard To Love" is pretty clutch. He has a bongo player in his band, but I'm not entirely sure he adds anything to the tracks.
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I wasn't going to mention Chris Young's brand of decent if not particularly interesting collection of love songs, but then he played "Sharp Dressed Man" and that was cool.