Over the course of my concert reviewin’ tenure, I’ve been assigned several country shows that I wouldn’t have considered buying a ticket for. For each of these, I held an outside hope going in – that what I was about to experience would erase my prejudices about contemporary country music, that I would finally get why so many people love the junk. Each time, the stereotypes proved true. The music was uninspired, super-glossy pop with a fiddle thrown in. The lyrics were about beer, sex, small towns, America and beer-soaked sex in small American towns.
So when I took in Brad Paisley’s smart, inspired set last weekend at Darien Lake Performing Arts Center, the feeling was of excitement long-delayed. With the exception of the poppy twang of his tunes, and his cowboy hat n’ blue jeans, Paisley’s performance was a completely unexpected joy. First, the guy’s an incredible guitarist, shifting from muscular Southern rock licks to lyrical pop passages with ease, and soloing like a madman without ever seeming masturbatory. And when he reached his guitar down to the outstretched arms of the crowd, letting them strum the final chord of a song with a beaming grin on his face, you could see that he was having as good a time as everyone else.
Then there are the songs themselves, which embody that sense of unpretentiousness and self-abasement that other country artists always talk about having. Tunes like “Online” and “Celebrity” may sound dated in a decade, but for now, they effectively lampoon our plasticine culture in endearingly silly ways. Paisley’s love songs, on the other hand, are undoubtedly timeless. The ballad “She’s My Everything” makes good on its title, with lyrics tender and true, and not trying to double as poetry. Paisley injected some soul into the cut, injecting a handful of inspired solos in between the verses.
And “Waitin’ On A Woman,” with its accompanying video depicting Andy Griffith waiting for his wife in the afterlife, floored me. After writing my review, I ran to the car to avoid the traffic, and sped home to be with the woman I love.