In a genre currently dominated by pretty boys, belt buckles and a mundane honky-tonk sound, Brad Paisley sticks out like a sore thumb. Forget the country music industry; Paisley is one of the most talented guitar players on the airwaves today, and he demonstrated his prowess on Sunday night at Saratoga Performing Arts Center, perhaps making up for forgettable performances by opening acts Justin Moore and Mickey Guyton.
With Paisley on the stage, sporting a white cowboy hat and a black T-shirt, the focus was entirely on the music. Beginning with his very first song, in which he opened with his 2014 hit “River Bank”, a guitar solo was included in nearly every song. Paisley’s West Virginia roots are evident in his bluegrass style of string plucking, but there was also a certain classic rock influence on his playing. His solos featured rifts up and down the fret board, and he could slide in a way that would make even Steve Miller proud. Between the bluegrass plucking in his right hand and the brilliant fretwork in his left hand, Paisley had remarkable dexterity with all ten fingers, something nearly unparalleled in today’s music scene. His vocal ability isn’t anything spectacular, but his guitar ability was impressive enough on its own merits to make up for it.
Justin Williamson, the fiddle player in Paisley’s band, also gave a memorable performance, taking numerous solos and getting ovations of his own. There were times in the concert that if you closed your eyes, it would sound like you were at a bluegrass festival. When you opened the eyes, you saw the mainstream modern country concert it was. The string playing by everyone on stage was fantastic.
Paisley’s concert team deserves kudos as well for their work on the video boards. During Paisley’s 2003 single “Celebrity,” the video featured satirical newspaper headlines and a man with a Brad Paisley mascot head running amok along the streets of a city wreaking havoc and having fun, poking fun at the different lifestyle that celebrities have. Later on, the board showed an impressive collaboration of New York City time-lapses lined up with the music. When Paisley sang his 2011 duet “Remind Me,” Carrie Underwood sang with him on a FaceTime conversation being shown on the SPAC video board. Paisley and Moore engaged in a duck-hunting video game on the board during the outro of “I’m Still a Guy.”
Compared with many of his country music counterparts, Paisley didn’t engage in much dialogue throughout the concert. All the focus was on the music. Even when he did engage with the crowd, the focus was around the guitar. After an acoustic performance of “This is Country Music,” he autographed his guitar and handed it to a young boy in the front row. A few songs later, Paisley followed up what many bands have done this summer at SPAC by playing a few acoustic songs for the people in the lawn, performing on a platform stationed directly in front of the lawn folks. Paisley poked fun at the lawn’s drunkenness, remarking that “now I’ll play a few songs for the people that won’t remember it in the morning.”
Paisley closed his set with perhaps his best known song “Mud on the Tires” and the new song that lends its name to the tour, “Crushin’ It.” When Paisley came out for the encore, he played “Then”, followed by a song that perhaps encapsulated the evening better than any other song, “Alcohol.”
Justin Moore was the co-headliner of the night, immediately preceding Paisley in the night’s events. Moore, an Arkansas native, won over the crowd with his good looks and some of his commentary, but his music left much to be desired.
Moore showed a strong vocal ability on a few songs, particularly in his 2011 hit “If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away,” which he dedicated to the American troops around the world, but much of his performance was disappointing. Starkly contrasting Paisley, he was sub-par on the guitar,and at times it felt like the six-string was a prop instead of an instrument. I’m sorry, but if your ass faces the crowd more than your mouth, I’m not convinced that you’re worried about the music as much as you should be.
Moore also constantly pandered to the crowd by playing the redneck-card, preaching conservative values. While Paisley (an Obama supporter) restrained from talking politics during his concert, Moore wouldn’t shut up about it, talking about troops and even starting a USA chant at one point. It was disappointing that he wasn’t able to win the crowd over with his music, so he had to use his handsomeness and his rugged political views.
Mickey Guyton, the opening act of the evening, was fine, but not so fine she’d blow your mind. She recognized the concert as an opportunity to build her platform, saying at one point that “it’s such an honor to play for Brad Paisley’s crowd,” and had strong vocal abilities throughout. Guyton appeared a bit nervous for most of her performance, and was relatively fidgety with the microphone, but she loosened up a bit after large ovations for her songs “Somebody Else Will” and “Cool Ya”.
A positive thing with Guyton, being an African-American, is that she helps bring some diversity to a genre that is almost entirely white. It created a certain crude irony, with a black singer performing to a lawn spotted in Confederate flags and paraphernalia.
In all, two out of the three artists were a tad dissatisfying, but the headlining artist absolutely brought it, salvaging the concert. Paisley certainly won at least one fan on Sunday night.