Photo: Larry Marano/Getty Images
Brad Paisley At Molson Amphitheatre
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By Nick Krewen
Brad Paisley's heart beats for no one … except his audience.
The three-time GRAMMY winner, whose renown for injecting pop culture references into his combination of fun-loving and serious country music, did so with hilarious effect on May 31 at Toronto’s Molson Canadian Amphitheatre during a date of his Beat This Summer tour in support his latest album, Wheelhouse.
In the accompanying video for "Celebrity," his comic send-up of tabloid culture, Paisley mimicked one of the latest viral sensations — injecting human-sounding goats into versions of hit songs (Google Bon Jovi's "Livin' On A Prayer [Goat Edition]" for reference) — and inserted playful pokes at Psy's "Gangnam Style" and fun at the expense of a cartoonish Paisley's own shameful tabloid-worthy shenanigans.
It was just one of the many highlights of a glitzy and entertaining two-hour affair that was filled with all sorts of high tech bells and whistles, but focused squarely on Paisley's genuine talent as a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and first-rate performer, and a humble sincerity that revered tradition.
Those who came expecting to see only Paisley and his openers (Chris Young, Lee Brice and the Henningsens) were treated to video cameo appearances by Charlie Daniels during "Karate"; NASCAR racing legend Jeff Gordon during "Old Alabama"; Hank Williams Jr. and late greats Johnny Cash, Conway Twitty and George Jones in "This Is Country"; and — in an inspiring display of smoke-and-mirrors trickery — a hologram of Carrie Underwood accompanying the West Virginia native for their hit duet "Remind Me."
Multitiered video screens and laser projections not withstanding, it was Paisley and his accompanying six-piece band that dazzled the most. A master axe man, Paisley blew through solos as he walked through a slender semicircular ramp set in the first section of the audience, often slapping audience members' palms without interrupting his meaty guitar passages.
He began performing "This Country" on an acoustic guitar before handing it to a young child perched on her father's shoulders, then switched to electric, one of many guitar swaps that occurred — many of them in mid-song — throughout the night.
Paisley also wandered out into the crowd, performed a three-song mini-set near the lawn section of the 16,000-seat, filled-to-capacity venue, and even had fans download an app that allowed them to create their own light show near the end of his performance.
And his cliché-free numbers offered healthy doses of depth and fun you would expected from a Brad Paisley song, while his between-song banter was engaging and mercifully free of the self-promotion of chart stats.
"How are ya, eh?" Paisley joked to the Canadian crowd. "It's good to be back in the land of Tim Hortons [the national coffee-and-donut chain] and Cuban cigars, though some people think that leaf on your flag is a marijuana leaf. I think they're thinking of another country."
It was a great night of solid performances of songs that embrace contemporary culture and traditional values. If country music is indeed colored Paisley, the future of the genre is in extremely good hands.
"Southern Comfort Zone"
"Mud On The Tires"
"The Mona Lisa"
"American Saturday Night"
"Outstanding In Our Field"
"This Is Country Music"
"Waitin' On A Woman"
"I'm Still A Guy"
"Beat This Summer"
"I'm Gonna Miss Her"
To catch Brad Paisley in a city near you, click here for tour dates.
(Nick Krewen is a Toronto-based journalist who has written for The Toronto Star, TV Guide, Billboard, Country Music and was a consultant for the National Film Board's music industry documentary Dream Machine.)