Paisley pretty much demonstrated his sentiments of how the night would go, starting with the commercially ready "Crushin It" and "American Saturday Night." This was pedal to the metal, bread-and-butter Paisley with his always keen, sharp guitar playing and drums setting the rapid fire paced.
And he mixes his novelty, fun side ("Online," "I'm Still A Guy," which he performed with help from one of the opening acts, Tyler Farr, and "Ticks") with songs that have a bit more to say (most obviously "Celebrity," where he pokes fun at himself and the celebrity status accorded others ranging from the Kardashians to Tiger Woods with its double-edged sword). He also took swipes during the 100-minute show at San Francisco 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick, who has sat during the national anthem at football games to protest the treatment of African Americans.
Paisley could rightly have been accused of going to the well too often when it came to guest spots. That would be Carrie Underwood reprising her role from previous tours in "Remind Me," (Paisley made like he's calling her, and she's not quite ready to sing along), Alabama in "Old Alabama" and for the first time, Demi Lovato in Paisley's new single "Without a Fight."
Instead of relying on perfect timing to pull the songs off and resulting in less opportunity for spontaneity (matter of fact, Paisley once again "accused" Underwood of being "stuck up" after her stint in remarks to the crowd about why she didn't appear live), how about taking a female back-up singer on tour?
During the ever depressingly lovely reading of "Whiskey Lullaby," for example, opening act Maddie & Tae jointly took over the role of Alison Krauss, and it worked.
As for "Without a Fight," it's a curious choice for Paisley to record a song that is pop and with a singer like Lovato. It's pleasant sounding enough on the recording and live, but isn't exactly near the top of the Paisley song canon. And while he has a song "This Is Country," "Without a Fight" isn't.
One gets the sense that Paisley needs to figure out from here where he is headed musically. Is he going to rely on his traditional past or blend in with the rocking sounds of what preens as country today?
Paisley closed out the fun show with his arena-ready, always fun sing-along "Alcohol." Since this was closing night, there were a few changes from a regular show, and that included performers and presumably crew members drinking upside down from a beer keg spout with their legs being held in the air by others. Apparently no easy feat, although Farr showed his bona fides.
More importantly, when it came to guitar playing, singing and entertaining, Paisley still makes it look easy. Even if he did rock.
Farr is a good singer, but don't confuse his music with being high on the country meter. Perhaps that was never more apparent than his mediocre cover of The Outfield's pop chestnut "Your Love."
Farr was one of those jingoistic, flag waving country acts - he, too, took a shot at Kaepernick, apparently an easy target if trying to elicit boos from the crowd - who wants to stay right with today's country. You can mention Hank as he does in his hit "Redneck Crazy," in the same breath as trucks and drinking, but that doesn't make you country.