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Friday, Nov. 22, 2013 08:42 am

Paisley delivers gem

PCCC show a stand-out

 Brad Paisley is not the greatest singer in country music.

His range is narrow, and his voice can sometimes be overwhelmed by his band. That was occasionally the case during Thursday’s performance at the Prairie Capital Convention Center, particularly early in the show during “Southern Comfort Zone” and “Mud on the Tires.”

It did not matter whatsoever, because Paisley’s performance was everything you could have wanted, and more.

There was humor. There were tons of electronic visual elements, with oversized video screens going non-stop throughout the concert that lasted an hour and 45 minutes. There was plenty of crowd interaction, thanks largely to a catwalk in the shape of a semi-circle that extended from the front of the stage, with concertgoers on all sides and a resulting theater-in-the-round effect.

But, more than anything else, there was musicianship. To call Paisley a brilliant guitarist is to fall far short of capturing what he does on stage. He switched guitars so many times, sometimes in mid-song, that it was nigh impossible to keep count. It wouldn’t be surprising if he needed an entire bus just to haul his instruments around on this Beat The Summer tour that began last May and is scheduled to wind up next March. Call it an extravagance that comes with superstardom, because Paisley could probably play a broom and make it sound good.

He played while skipping carefree up stairs to a raised stage behind the band, and if you’d closed your eyes, you wouldn’t have known he was moving at all. He played one-handed while signing an autograph for someone in the front row. He played bottle slide with an empty Bud Light. He did not play with his teeth, but he did play with his heart.

Great as Thursday’s show was, and concertgoers got every penny’s worth of the admission price, I found myself fantasizing about Paisley and another Zen master of the guitar – I was thinking Junior Brown – playing together, each pushing the other to points beyond,  a la Chet Atkins and Les Paul. Paisley didn’t need anyone to push him on Thursday, but his performance was such that it evoked thoughts of  other amazing guitarists and had you thinking, “Yeah, this guy definitely belongs.”

Besides chops, Paisley demonstrated confidence and more than a little consideration for his audience. He brought out Chris Young, who opened for him, to perform a duet on “Outstanding in Our Field.”  Young is a talented singer and clearly has a better voice than Paisley, whose vocal limitations were underscored with Young onstage. A lot of performers wouldn’t have done it, but it made for a better show, and Paisley throughout the evening seemed more interested in quality than ego. “Hot for Teacher,” a Van Halen cover, isn’t what one would expect from at a country show, and it wasn’t the night’s most successful effort – again, vocals were not as strong as Paisley’s playing -- but it was different and for that reason alone worthwhile.

All this is not to say that Paisley can’t sing. He can, and there was nothing to nitpick on numbers such as “She’s Everything” and “Celebrity,” the latter punctuated by an amusing video that featured a Brad Paisley -- for lack of a better word --  mascot with an oversized, cartoonish head of the performer (the sort of thing you’d see at a college football or basketball game) that got into all sorts of trouble with cops and attractive women and paparazzi. The same mascot appeared on stage during the song to clown and shake hands with front-row fans.

The front row became the back for three songs when Paisley went to a very small stage near the soundboard at the rear of the hall so that fans who otherwise had to look at video screens could see him up close. It was Paisley Unplugged as he and his bandmates performed understated versions of  “Waiting on a Woman,” “Online” and “I’m Still a Guy” that were among the show’s strongest numbers.

Paisley had two guitars slung from his neck when he began “This Is Country Music,” and the reason why became clear when he pulled out a Sharpie, signed the acoustic guitar he used to start the song, then handed it to someone in the front row as he pulled an electric into position to complete the song. He ended the show by tossing his cowboy hat toward a little boy, four or five years old by the look of him, who sat piggyback, rapt, on someone’s shoulders for almost all of the concert.

The hat fell short, and the boy had no chance in the ensuing brief scrum. But whoever ended up with the hat didn’t have it for long. Paisley pointed at the boy, his meaning clear, and the hat was handed over to its intended recipient, who wide-eyed center stage and smiled like he’d just interrupted Santa Claus filling stockings. A beautiful way to end a fabulous show by a performer who had ‘em eating out of his hand, and deservedly so.

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

Set List
Southern Comfort Zone
Mud on the Tires
Mona Lisa
American Saturday Night
Outstanding in Our Field
This Is Country Music
Celebrity
Then
She’s Everything
Hot for Teacher
Old Alabama
Waitin’ on a Woman
Online
I’m Still a Guy
Beat This Summer
I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song)
Remind Me
Ticks
Water

Encore
Alcohol


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