CHICAGO — Brad Paisley has outgrown his Wranglers.
Gone are the plain jeans and starched shirts of his county fair days. This arena gig is a whole new world for Brad Paisley, and judging from the embellished designer jeans and screaming sold-out crowds, it looks like he could get used to it.
On Friday night (Dec. 8), Paisley wrapped his cross-country Time Well Wasted tour at Chicago’s Allstate Arena. Carrie Underwood and Jake Owen joined him on his first-ever headlining arena tour.
While Paisley may have one-upped his wardrobe, his live music remains true to his West Virginia roots. Every song he sang had all the influences of his Opry heroes but enough hip virtuoso performance to keep his show from getting too down-home.
Starting with his guitars. Six paisley-adorned Telecasters and one acoustic Larrivee cemented his status as a guitar hero throughout his 15-song set. But Paisley’s got a way of weaving his jams seamlessly into his songs, without letting them take over and bore the audience. He has said before that lyrics are just something to do to get to the next solo, but he knows that his fans come to hear him sing as much as they do to hear him play.
And that’s just what they got: the best of all things Brad. Because Paisley did a mix of boot-stomping hits and sentimental ballads, the crowd spent the night doing the typical concert aerobics: stand up for “Celebrity,” sit down for “She’s Everything,” stand up again for “Me Neither,” sit down again for “When I Get Where I’m Going.”
The folks in the front three rows, though, were in the best spot. Those ticket holders were made up almost entirely of Paisley’s fan club members. (Not all fans clubs are this generous. Most set aside tickets for members but rarely in the front three rows.) Before Paisley came on, his manager invited the front rows to come and stand right up against the stage. In an age where celebrities get bigger and thus untouchable, it was refreshing to see how accessible Paisley still is.
By the end of the night, he’d covered six songs from his reigning CMA album of the year,Time Well Wasted, and plenty of his older hits. Even the songs that haven’t made it to radio yet, like “Easy Money” and “I’ll Take You Back,” seemed to be crowd favorites. He even made time for an acoustic-only Christmas medley midshow. Near the end of the night, Underwood came back out to join him on “Whiskey Lullaby,” filling in for Alison Krauss’ angelic voice.
While he spent most of his time singing and less of it on the coveted audience banter, he did manage to get a few laughs. Like telling the Chicago audience, “Nothing means more to us than having you (Green Bay) Packers fans here with us tonight.” And then introducing every one of his band members (who are probably from all over the country) as residents of nearby cities in Illinois. Fans either got the joke or just thought it was a coincidence that Paisley got all his talent from one state.
And the guitar picks, they were flying. Paisley must’ve thrown close to a thousand picks out to eager fans. They do make cool souvenirs, but you have to wonder what the value really is when the supply is almost greater than the demand. Some pick manufacturer somewhere is getting very rich over this new trend.
Paisley left the stage after just over an hour, then came back for a quick encore of “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song)” and ending with Johnny Cash’s 1956 hit, “Folsom Prison Blues.” Only Paisley could turn the somber, bluesy bummer of a song into a swinging upbeat tune worthy of a line dance.
Before Paisley’s set, Underwood managed to get nine songs out of her faltering voice, one that seemed weak from illness or the rigors of the road. However, the six-man band behind her, plus a backup vocalist, made the music as familiar and likable as always. And on “Don’t Forget to Remember Me,” Underwood even took an acoustic guitar into her own hands and played along with the band while she sang. “Before He Cheats” was the one that brought the crowd to their feet, and on “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore,” Underwood sounded just like the twangy Texas-bred Miranda Lambert. Part of Underwood’s appeal is that before Idol, she was a die-hard country fan just like the rest of ’em. She proved it with her outfit, pairing a 2004 Brad Paisley concert T-shirt with True Religion jeans.
Newcomer Jake Owen opened the show, which is always the roughest gig of the night. People are still buying beer, the seats are only half full, and the lights aren’t even dimmed, but by the time he was done, the early birds were buzzing about his voice, energy and charm. Every artist has a song about where they come from, and “You Can Thank Dixie” is Owen’s. And while his new single “Startin’ With Me” hasn’t been on the radio long, it was the one the crowd knew by heart.
With the tour complete, Paisley and wife Kimberly Williams-Paisley can get back home to Nashville to await his best production yet — baby Paisley, due in February.