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Paisley goes local

First Niagara Pavilion, Burgettstown, Pa., May 17, 2014

Reviewed by Michael Rampa

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"Brad" was often the response at will call to the question "Who left the tickets for you?" Patrons meant headliner Brad Paisley. First Niagara Pavilion in Burgettstown, PA is really a home game for the Glen Dale, West Va. native. A fair share of his devotees are usually comped for his annual appearance. The 41 year-old CMA and ACM male vocalist of the year grew up attending shows here well before its first name change to Post-Gazette Pavilion in 1999.

Still touring behind 2013's "Wheelhouse," there is plenty of material on the 21-track disc. Ironically, he featured very few numbers from on the second stop on his new Country Nation World Tour and instead delivered a majority of older hits that are right in his, and his fans' (well, you know).

He showed why he is known as country's best shredder by opening with a scorching version of "Moonshine In The Truck." The speed picking clinic would continue for the remainder of the evening with various Telecasters falling victim to his lighting fast fretwork.

Though he clearly leans toward the contemporary end of the country spectrum, his songs still espouse the core values of the genre; be it drinking or the machismo of "I'm Still a Guy" to the tender "I Thought I Loved You Then."

Paisley is one of country's most tech savvy stars. He chooses most of the animation and has creative input into every aspect of the massive production. That said, the roughly 80-foot projection screen proved to be a double-edged sword. It proved amusing while showing the video of Paisley's caricature puppet dancing Gangham style during "Celebrity," but was overwhelming with the laser stars and Captain America comic book art backing "American Saturday Night."

He walked through the aisles to perform an acoustic mini set on a B stage to the lawn. He pulled out John Denver's "Country Roads" for obvious reasons.

The evening was full of local references to the delight of 21,000. From referencing his own John Marshall High School to substituting "Steeler tattoo" in the chorus of "Ticks" he equally pleased both factions from opposite ends of Route 18.

The night's most entertaining moment came when keyboardist Kendal Marcy challenged Paisley to duplicate various piano licks on his guitar. The material covered everything from AC/DC to the famous theme song, "Let It Go."

Of course, he capped it off with "Alcohol." It is almost as trademarked a number as Skynyrd's "Freebird."

In a relatively short period of time, Paisley has gone from a youngster sitting on the lawn at the Coca Cola Amphitheater at Star Lake to rocking the stage at First Niagara. Talk about same place, different story. Not bad for a West Virginia boy.

If pre- openers Charlie Worsham and Leah Turner were unfamiliar to some, they certainly made an impression. Worsham is extremely capable on strings. He daringly opened with a bluegrass banjo shred of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and speed picked a Martin acoustic on the title track from "Rubberband."

Turner is a more dyed in the wool country singer than the crossover bombshells that have become the faces of the genre. The rodeo champion's daughter has a fiery stage presence that perfectly fits the satirical "My Finger." Her confident strut commanded attention even from the lawn for the six song set, which included the Top 40 hit "Take the Keys" and a cover of the Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away."

Judging by the crowd's response, Randy Houser proved he had name recognition and also that could shred during an elaborately produced hour long eight-song greatest hits set that included "Boots On," and of course, his latest, "How Country Feels."