For a brief time Wednesday night (June 17) in Nashville, Brad Paisley wasn’t even the coolest guy wearing a white cowboy hat on the steaming LP Field stage.
Oh, white-hatted Paisley was plenty cool — the figurative rather than the 100-degree literal — as he offered rock-guitar stylings and even got a little help from friends Carrie Underwood and Joe Walsh.
But then Mick Jagger put on a white cowboy hat, and the primitive cool of the rock legend overshadowed even that of the country showman.
Long after Paisley turned the stage over by telling the fans to “enjoy the Rolling Stones,” Jagger captivated the packed stadium by donning a white cowboy hat and singing “Far Away Eyes” while Ronnie Wood played steel guitar. This song came after Jagger — long tongue placed firmly in deeply lined cheek — promised the crowd that he and his 53-year-old rock band were not going to cater to the music that made Nashville famous.
Jagger also nodded to the many country stars in attendance by noting that when he entered the VIP room, he was surrounded in the most heartbreak he’s ever witnessed in one place.
The 71-year-old Jagger also made sure to laud the work of their opening act.
“I want to thank Brad Paisley for doing such a good job in the opening set,” Jagger said, shortly into the Stones’ hit parade that left a sweltering crowd breathless or, in some cases, ill from the heat.
The praise was well-deserved, as the 42-year-old Paisley, knowing he was just the appetizer, installed with gusto all the rock ’n’ roll crunch and guitar gymnastics he could muster. So, even though the older and wiser man wore a white cowboy hat for a single song, Paisley — in his own trademark white headgear — held his own.
The fact that Jagger and his group of young upstarts — Keith Richards, 71, Charlie Watts, 74, and Ronnie Wood, a young 68 — delved some into a country vein would surprise no one who has been paying attention for the last half-century.
The Rolling Stones always have drawn from all styles of American music during their long transition from self-styled punkish louts to elder statesmen (and even a knighthood for Jagger). And, with the LP Field appearance, Nashville fans (or at least the older ones) have been able to witness the band’s evolution on five separate occasions.
“We first came to Nashville in 1965. It was a small village,” Jagger recollected later in the evening. “We want to thank you for coming back and seeing us all these times.”
That came long after Jagger began sweating through his shirts after his Glimmer Twins “brother” Keith Richards opened the show by stepping from the darkness while playing the heart-leaping intro to “Jumping Jack Flash.”
Jagger even had time for a local weather report, telling the sweat-dripping fans “it’s hotter than a monkey’s bum” on the LP Field stage.
Paisley didn’t seem distracted by the fact he was the opener to the legendary band, telling the crowd, “A lot of you have waited your whole life to see the Rolling Stones. … You have to sit through me first.”
And even as the restless crowd drank scary-looking frozen concoctions and beer — although water was the more intelligent choice for who preferred not to risk heat stroke — and chatted away while taking selfies with the stage as the background, Paisley wasn’t deterred from putting it all on the line for those who did care to listen.
In fact, he raised the stakes a bit as he worked his way through such songs as “She’s Everything” and “River Bank” and called on a couple of allies to join the fray.
Carrie Underwood — Paisley’s friend and acclaimed awards show co-host — joined her pal for their duet “Remind Me,” massive stage fans blowing away at her blond hair and shiny black garb.
Paisley, who obviously is a judge of the crowd he’s playing for, put a little more rock crunch and guitar gymnastics into his show than he would have, say, on a CMA Awards telecast or even last weekend’s finale set in this same stadium for CMA Music Festival. (He concluded his abbreviated set Wednesday with “Alcohol,” which was the swan song for CMA Fest Sunday night.)
To demonstrate that, he not only drew on his own mental rock encyclopedia, he snuck in a few guitar lines from “Honky Tonk Women” as he noodled before blasting into the unmistakable classic guitar intro of “Life’s Been Good,” the Joe Walsh classic with one of the most iconic intros in rock ‘n’ roll.
Paisley briefly began singing the anthem of a dissolute and pampered rock star before jerking to a stop.
Telling the crowd he couldn’t “sing that high,” he turned to his right as Walsh, a young-looking 67, made his entry onto the stage.
Walsh, whose rich rock legacy includes much more than his perhaps best-known role as Eagles guitarist in recent decades, could obviously hit those high vocal notes, to the delight of the gathering crowd.
Paisley, not afraid of risk-taking, even matched up his own considerable guitar skills with Walsh’s as they drew loud applause from the crowd that was beginning to finally settle into their seats for the famous headliners, who would begin their set at 9:30 p.m.
Walsh even stayed onstage with Paisley for the set-concluding “Alcohol,” his guitar mastery at least equal to Paisley’s own expertise.
It could even be said that Paisley, who along with Keith Urban is known as one of country music’s most-talented guitarists, was the fourth best guitarist onstage Wednesday evening. And that’s not a knock on his considerable talent. It’s more a comment on the mastery of Wood, Richards and Walsh, men who have learned through the decades during careers that began long before he was born.
During the Stones’ set, Paisley was summoned back to the stage — drawing a compliment from Jagger for his costume change to a black T-shirt emblazoned with the fat lips and flashing tongue logo of the mostly septuagenarian headliners — to join the band on “Dead Flowers.”
While this song – with its “send me dead flowers to my wedding, and I won’t forget to put roses on your grave” lyrics paying mortal tribute to heroin (which is made from dead poppies) – is a far cry from songs about beer drinking, summer partying and driving pickup trucks through the mud, Paisley held his own both on guitar and while swapping vocals with Jagger.
Google “songs about heroin use,” and this lamentation from 1971’s Sticky Fingers album shows up on a list that includes the Velvet Underground’s “Heroin,” John Prine’s “Sam Stone” and Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done.”
So, while “Dead Flowers” is less-harmless than the content of his own songbook, the young Nashville superstar offered up powerful performances both on the vocals and the guitar.
In fact, his guitar work — with Wood and Richards framing him in a stellar and fiery trio — drew broad smiles from the older players.
During his time onstage with the Stones, Paisley tried to teach Jagger the proper way to say “Y’all,” which proved to be no problem for rock music’s greatest chameleon.
The Stones paid more attention to their surroundings than just playing the countrified, dramatic rendering of “Far Away Eyes.”
In past visits to Music City, the Stones have played twice at Municipal Auditorium (1965 and 1972), once at Vanderbilt stadium (1997) and once at what is now Bridgestone Arena (2002).
Just before launching into “Tumbling Dice,” Jagger surveyed the heat-basting crowd and said “We never played here before. The LP Field, home of the all-conquering Titans.” With a laugh, a nod toward the fact the local team is hardly “all-conquering,” he added, “Next year you’ve got Marcus (Mariota), anyway, right?”
During part of the proceedings, the Titans’ logo splashed on the screens, dressed with fat lips and extended tongue, a nod toward the flavor-of-the-night merch for sale inside the stadium. The Rolling Stones, after all, are not only regarded as perhaps the greatest of all rock bands but also for the business acumen that has allowed them to stack up loads of cash over the decades.
And while perhaps the Stones made the mold for the dissolute rocker’s life painted in Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good,” the fact is they’ve survived and thrived well, with all four men moving freely, running even, about the stage and the three ramps.
Perhaps the greatest example of this came when the Stones played the dramatic and deadly “Midnight Rambler,” the 13th song in the set, with the lead singer showing off the “Moves like Jagger” that Maroon 5 and Christina Aguilera memorialized in the sensual hit pop song of that title.
During this tour, the Stones have been enlisting the aid of young local classical singing groups to serve as the choir during the anthemic “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” the first of the two encore songs they offered after the 18-song regular set ended with “Brown Sugar.”
On Wednesday, it was the 24 young voices of the Belmont University Chorale that sang the immortal high notes that contrast nicely with the grit of The Stones.
The Stones long ago realized the fans are there to hear their favorites, so they roll out a “greatest hits” show with most of the songs coming from at least four decades ago. But that doesn’t say that Richards and Wood don’t vary the sonic jams during the songs, that Watts doesn’t play with the rhythm or that Jagger doesn’t change his delivery so it doesn’t sound like the old records.
And nowhere in the night was that more evident than in the finale, their signature song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which hit the Billboard Hot 100 chart at No. 67 on June 12, 1965, beginning its climb to No. 1 for four weeks, starting July 10, becoming the band’s first certified gold record.
The Stones offered up a grittier, perhaps more world-wise version before taking their final bow Wednesday night.
Their fans keep coming, figuring that. yes, this could be the last time.
But there was a “see you later” tone in the voices of these men who have seen and done it all, including conquering Nashville five separate times.
“We should come here more often, you know,” said Richards. “Great town, man. Music. Music. Music.”