by Sam Wardle
Time Warner Cable Pavilion at Walnut Creek, Raleigh
Saturday, June 6, 2009
Toward the end of his long set at the Time Warner Cable Pavilion at Walnut Creek Saturday night, country megastar Brad Paisley took a break to thank the audience for shelling out its good money to see him, despite the tough economic times. The nearly sold-out crowd responded with a deafening if half-drunk roar. After all, Paisley and the night had provided what good country music is about these days: a pretty night with a full moon, a packed crowd, songs about love, family and hell-raising, plenty of light domestic beer, and—come to think of it—plenty of songs about light domestic beer, too.
Let the indie rockers whine. Let the hard rappers threaten. Let the pop tarts sell their, uhh, souls: Country music is a different animal. Its critics (and there are plenty of them) complain that it’s a simplistic, dumbed-down, obnoxious form of commerce that has built its success on jingoistic claptrap like Billy Ray Cyrus’ “All Gave Some, Some Gave All.” And maybe it is. But while the rest of the world despairs, modern pop-country singers live happily in a universe of family and the good, rejoicing in simple pleasures of bass fishing, barbecue and youthful indiscretion.
Sure, there was a moment or two during Saturday night’s show when a buxom blonde appeared in one of Paisley’s Jumbotron animations, but they were outnumbered maybe 20-to-one by gratuitous images of swimming bass. During Paisley’s crowd-pleasing performance of his 2002 hit, “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” in which a dedicated angler decides he likes fishing more than he likes his girlfriend, the fish overran everything. The barroom sing-a-long seemed to have the four approving soldiers in front of me in tears. And Paisley only approached politics once, during an instrumental rock number accompanied by a cartoon animation of Paisley and his band on the big screens. The cartoon, which showed the band as superheroes saving other country stars from certain death, ended with the gang deciding not to save the immodestly patriotic Toby Keith from the clutches of the fire-breathing Dixie Chicks. Interesting…
Paisley has made a huge name for himself with songs that most rednecks—even closet rednecks, like y’all’s reviewer—can relate to on a profound level: In “Online,” he reveals a marked distrust of technology with a song about a complete loser who lives a double life through MySpace. Paisley also embodies the shameless, silly lustfulness of the drunken singles’ bar by suggesting to a woman, in “Ticks,” that he’d like to “see the other half of your butterfly tattoo.” He writes some damn catchy choruses, too, particularly in “Alcohol,” a song that echoes Homer Simpson’s mantra that drink is the “cause of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.”
As a performer, Paisley was at his best with the barnburning bombast of tunes like “Alcohol.” As a songwriter, he excels at using humor to elaborate on the subtle differences between men and women. Saturday, he debuted a number of songs from his soon-to-be-released seventh studio album, American Saturday Night, the best of which was a hysterical ballad, played solo, which admonished a “big ol’ boy” that his take-no-BS attitude with his woman was going to lead to a lifetime of celibacy. Unlike opener Dierks Bentley, who only occasionally held a guitar—and then, one imagines, just as a prop—Paisley is a serious musician, too, a would-be Derek Trucks or Kenny Wayne Shepherd singing popular songs. He plays his paisley-decked Telecaster to within an inch of its life. With those traits coming in waves, Paisley’s set was well-paced and flawlessly executed.
I, however, do have a personal gripe with the penchant of big-budget entertainers to put so much stock in massive illustrations projected onto big screen. It’s as if a performer as exciting as Paisley needed the extra help. He doesn’t. During “Ticks,” the huge screens filled with tick’s-eye views of bikini-clad women. If you’ve never seen a square inch of a woman’s stomach blown up to Brobdingnag size, I don’t recommend it. And at one point, when Paisley’s band took a break while he performed “Whiskey Lullabye” solo, Allison Kraus made a ghostly, digital appearance that was so confusingly lifelike, a large portion of the audience was left chattering about whether Kraus was actually present. She wasn’t, but the saddest ballad of the night was drowned out by the discussion.
Still, all Jumbotron aside, Paisley put on a fantastic show.