CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — Brad Paisley is that rare country singer who seems to have no trouble finding (or writing) up-tempo country hits. During the first eight songs of his Thursday night (April 26) set at McKenzie Arena in Chattanooga, Tenn., he slowed down only once — for “She’s Everything,” his most recent No. 1. Other than that, the night raced along through a mix of funny, new songs as well as the catchy tunes that made him a headliner in the first place.
Paisley and his three opening acts — Taylor Swift, Kellie Pickler and Jack Ingram — all mentioned that this was the first night of Paisley’s Bonfires & Amplifiers tour which will keep them on the road for most of the year. Overall, the production is generous with music rather than special effects, although Paisley does use the big screens to show off his latest animation achievements. While the folks at Disney shouldn’t be worried about their jobs, the clever cartoons are another cool outlet for his wry sense of humor.
Not that he’s always a joker. In fact, numerous fans seemed to stay around until “Whiskey Lullaby,” then started heading toward the door even though he still had several more hits to go. Paisley may want to consider changing up the set list, but other than that, the show sustained the excitement from the moment the lights went down, through the immediate enthusiasm for “Ticks” and a surprising cover song that closed the show.
If the new material is any indication, his upcoming CD (due in June) will match the standard set by Time Well Wasted, which was named album of the year at last year’s CMA Awards. A hilarious new song, “Remember, I’m Still a Guy,” earned a huge response and lots of finger-pointing from wives and girlfriends. Really, it may be Paisley’s power of observation that has helped him reach this point in his career. When you think about it, many of his songs are almost like a stand-up comedy routine (differences between men and women, celebrity antics, etc.) but with superior guitar playing and strong vocals.
Taylor Swift carries herself with the confidence of a pro on stage, even though she’s only on her second single. The young women in the audience certainly responded to her breezy music as well as her anecdotes, including a mention that the guy who inspired “Tim McGraw” is actually a college sophomore in Chattanooga now. Rather than give the juicy details behind the story, she let the lyrics speak for themselves. That wistful single helped propel her self-titled debut album to gold status in just a few months. Judging by the shouts and screams, “Teardrops on My Guitar” should lead it to platinum. And, yes, she packed the breakthrough video of the year trophy she won at the recent CMT Music Awards and extended an invitation to every fan to come visit her after the show.
Kellie Pickler, who held the second spot, has the pleasantly twangy voice of Pam Tillis and — it must be said — the curves of Dolly Parton. Anybody would notice this, no matter where they were sitting. A former finalist on American Idol, Pickler sings great, taking on “9 to 5″ with a lot of sass. However, the young guys in my section couldn’t contain their giggles every time she leaned all the way over to shake hands with fans in the front row. Watch out!
Still, Pickler nailed “I Wonder,” even as she choked up on the last line (“your little girl is off to Tennessee”). The folks in the rafters couldn’t always understand her stage banter, whether because of her nerves or the sound system, but she proved to be quite charming nonetheless.
Jack Ingram hasn’t had the breakthrough success of any of these artists, as far as sales go, but he’s been playing the big rooms for years in his native Texas. He’s sure of himself onstage and knows better than to talk too much. Instead, he mostly relied on the hit singles he’s released lately — “Wherever You Are,” “Love You” and “Lips of an Angel.” Much like Pickler’s “I Wonder,” Ingram’s new single, “Measure of a Man,” is a potent tune about a parent who’s been out of touch. Surprisingly, the intense emotion in the song somehow works in an arena setting. By the time this tour is wrapping up, Ingram may be closing his show with it.