Concert Review

Brad Paisley Hosted a Mario Kart Tournament on Stage Last Night

“Happy hour starts in 5… 4… 3… 2… 1.”

Immediately following that illuminated LED countdown on a massive two-story video monitor engulfing the stage at Ak-Chin Pavilion, Brad Paisley emerged into the spotlight wearing a cowboy hat, blue jeans and an officially licensed Stark Enterprises Iron Man T-shirt. A colossal legion of screaming fans lay in wait for their country music hero, and by no means did the excitement stop there.

From 2006 through 2010 Brad Paisley strung together a streak of five consecutive wins at the Academy of Country Music Awards for top male vocalist of the year, and last night the country music juggernaut proved why he always is, and probably always will be, a front-runner for high-prestige accolades.

Billed as a stop on Paisley’s current “Crushing It World Tour,” as well as the second performance for the Country Megaticket summer concert series, every music fan buzzing around the pavilion seemed to carry high expectations for the evening.

To say Paisley didn’t disappoint would be a small statement when lauding a performance that carried a setlist of songs woven together more like a concept album to deliver the overarching storyboard of Paisley’s life rather than simply a greatest hits selection. Not to mention in-your-face instrumental licks, a massive video screen display synced to the soundtrack and complimented by a retrofit bar on stage with working beer taps. That’s right; the musical mind behind summer 2005’s unstoppable country radio single “Alcohol” has found a way to bring his own bar onto the stage with him during his world tour. 

Paisley and his band took the stage around 9:30 p.m. to a massive roar of cheers as he prepared to close out an evening that had already been sonically satisfying with the likes of relative unknowns Justin Moore and Mickey Guyton as openers.

From the top of his set, Paisley brought the audience to their feet by offering a hat trick of up-tempo tunes, “River Bank”, “Water”, and “Moonshine in the Trunk”, all heavily themed in summertime carelessness and freedom.
The recent heat wave spreading across our city over the last week had subsided slightly with an overcast afternoon of rain showers leading up to Paisley’s concert, which the West Virginia native was quick to give thanks for: “Earlier today I tweeted that it was going to cool down tonight,” Paisley told the crowd. “I was just kidding, but it worked! This is the best night we’re going to have—the rest of the summer is going the suck!”

The real artistry, however, of his opening musical montage came from the juxtaposition of “I’m Still a Guy” and “She’s Everything” played side by side. As an ode to a dying breed of masculinity, “I’m Still a Guy” shines Paisley’s comical light on the innate differences between men and women. He used this manly anthem as a surprising, but fitting, segue into the romanticized love ballad, which is saturated in sensitivity and sentimentality, “She’s Everything” off of his 2005 ACM album of the year Time Well Wasted.

Throughout the night, Paisley used the centerpiece video screen for visual interpretation. For instance: during “I’m Still a Guy” the video screen played a loop of footage from the 1984 Nintendo game Duck Hunt. Meanwhile, “She’s Everything” was accompanied by a romantic starry sky backdrop, like a photo still lifted right out of the Milky Way galaxy.

As the author of a New York Times bestselling novel, Diary of a Player: How My Musical Heroes Made a Guitar Man Out of Me, Paisley has paid written tribute to the people in his past who encouraged him and put him in the position to be the country music superstar and guitar aficionado that we know today. Their influence has clearly been profound for Paisley’s musical spirit, as he knocked out guitar solos with ease as if he were Nashville’s own hybrid twanging answer to heavy metal.

Teetering on a live rendition of his own novel, Paisley, the musical storyteller, turned the pages of his setlist seamlessly from lighthearted interactive fun with the audience, like momentarily commandeering the phones of people in the front row to take selfies, to the more personalized introspective tracks of his repertoire like “Whiskey Lullaby” and “Southern Comfort Zone”. It is a combination of this musical showmanship and lyrical content that makes it fairly clear as to how in 2001, at the age of 28, Paisley was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry only 14 months after his first number one single.

At one point in the show, Paisley traversed the crowd of fans in the front row and worked his way to a small makeshift stage near the center of the pavilion by the audio mixing booth. While there, he took the opportunity to offer fans seated further away a personalized and intimate showing with slower acoustic songs.

The highlight of his “B” stage performance was a scripted piece of the show where Paisley pretended to make a Face Time call on his iPhone and the video feed was projected up onto the video monitors of the main stage. While fans listened to Paisley sing the opening verse to “Remind Me,” they stared at an empty dressing room on screen until, suddenly, Carrie Underwood came into frame to lend a hand on the chorus and her own verse.
Even though this theatrical piece was prerecorded, it went over smashingly with the audience, and paved the way for Paisley’s next stunt where, safely back onto the main stage, he brought a 10-year-old kid up with him to use the giant stage monitor as a video game console once again — this time for a game of Mario Kart.

While Paisley wailed away on a guitar solo the young kid raced his three laps on the famous track; flinging turtle shells at the competition and trying to avoid banana peel booby traps.

“Ok, so you know how to play this game,” Paisley told the kid as he handed him a brand new guitar, “Now learn how to play this, and I’ll see you back here in 10 years.”

Charging into the final hurrah of his performance, Paisley unleashed some of his long-term radio staples “Mud on the Tires” and “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song),” accompanied by new music such as “Crushin’ It” from 2014’s Moonshine in the Trunk album, during which the video screen behind the band showcased Paisley’s own hand-drawn cartoons of other popular country music singers. But to cap off the night, he pulled out his highest ranked song on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of 100 Greatest Country Songs of All Time, “Alcohol”, a drinking jingle that incited a mass sing-along from the crowd (“Alcohol” clocked in at number 54 on the Rolling Stone list; also on the same list is Paisley’s song “Welcome to the Future” at number 100.)

Now that his performance here in the Valley is over, Paisley is one day closer to an upcoming show where he will be the opening act for the Rolling Stones when they visit Nashville in a few weeks. He has referenced to CMT the fact that it has been quite a while since he was an opening act, and he knows he will have to earn the respect of fans just killing time before one of the largest rock and roll bands in history performs. So perhaps he was only using his stage time last night in Phoenix as a chance to further rehearse his musical chops before the long-awaited Stones show, but even if that were the case, fans in the audience sure didn’t seem to mind playing the part of rehearsal stage.
Critic's Notebook

Last Night:

Brad Paisley at Ak-Chin Pavilion

The Crowd:

All kinds of country music fans from the diehard elitists to casual listeners.

Overheard in the Crowd:

As Paisley performed his song “Perfect Storm” the giant video monitor behind him showed a massive lightning storm spectacle synced to the music. During the lightning storm video, a guy close to me leaned over to his buddy and said, “I’m glad I didn’t bring my girl to this; she has epilepsy and wouldn’t survive!”

Personal Bias:

There was a time when I quickly listed Brad Paisley as one of my favorite country musicians, but as time passed I forgot about him in a way, and I hadn’t really given him much thought in many years.

Random Notebook Dump:

Paisley had an unbelievable number of stage hands set up for his performance (more than 20). Kiss is known for having an elaborate stage production, and when I watched them at the same pavilion several years ago even they didn’t have as many stage hands as Paisley.

Random Notebook Dump, Part II:

I was hoping to hear Paisley pay some kind of homage to the late B.B. King who passed away a few weeks ago on May 14. King and Paisley had shared studio time together on a remix of the track "Let the Good Times Roll."

Set List:

This may not be 100 percent accurate, but it’s the best I could do from memory and looking at previous setlists online

River Bank
Moonshine in the Trunk
This is Country Music
I’m Still a Guy
She’s Everything
American Saturday Night
Whiskey Lullaby
Beat this Summer
Perfect Storm
Old Alabama
Waitin’ on a Woman
Remind Me
Southern Comfort Zone
I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin’ Song)
Mud on the Tires/ Crushin’ It
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When Caleb isn't writing about music for New Times, he turns to cheesy horror movies and Jim Beam to pass the time.
Contact: Caleb Haley

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