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Paisley creates memories

Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, Irvine, Cal., July 12, 2014

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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Brad Paisley sets the expectations for high for his concerts. Whereas guys like Toby Keith and Kenny Chesney mainly come to bring the party, Alan Jackson just stands up straight and sings his hits, Paisley aims to create meaningful memories. And that's exactly what he did on this American Saturday night.

Shortly after he started singing "This Is Country Music," Paisley stopped, took out a Sharpie and signed the front body of his guitar. He then handed the guitar to a surprised and overjoyed elementary aged young man at the side of the stage. That gifting memory will last a lifetime.

Later in the show, Paisley wandered up into the audience where a tiny, impromptu stage was set up in the loge section. He told these fans that when he was younger, he always seemed to get tickets in the cheaper seats. So, he's decided to sing a few songs during this tour for fans not privileged to sit right up front. For these lucky ones, he sang an acoustic, bluegrass-tinged version of "Online." And, once again, creating a moment they'll certainly always remember.

Even for those that have seen Paisley many times, this show still held new wrinkles and surprises. When he sang the funny "Celebrity," for instance, he augmented the performance with a video segment featuring an oversized Paisley-headed figure running around and making a fool of himself -- at one point, even swinging from a wrecking ball a la Miley Cyrus.

Later, toward the end of the night he squared off with DJ Silver, who would play a recorded snippet of a famous guitar riff where Paisley would then play the same riff live. This segment ended with Paisley doing some amazingly spot-on imitations of Eddie Van Halen for a version of Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher." In a word, Paisley was unforgettable.

Paisley was preceded by a smoking set from Randy Houser. Houser's vocal tone is similar to Keith, yet he simply sings so much better than that mainstream star. Houser gave a gruff, yet melodic, performance. He closed his set with a blues-rock inspired, soul organ saturated "Whistlin' Dixie.'" Although he asked the audience to sing along a few too many times during his set - the audience was already right there with you, Randy - he was inspired and entertaining from start to finish.

Leah Turner's set was highlighted by a sincere cover (she's a real cowgirl, y'all) of the Dixie Chicks' "Cowboy Take Me Away." However, her voice is a bit of an acquired taste. It leans toward the husky side, and she really looked and sounded like she was straining it when she sang, which made it somewhat uncomfortable to listen to and watch.

Charlie Worsham drew the 7 p.m. show opening slot, which found him singing to a daylight filled, half-filled amphitheatre. Nevertheless, the enthusiastic performer did his level best to entertain those that arrived early. Set highpoints included a banjo version of Ozzy Osbourne's "Crazy Train" and a set closing funky country number titled "Rubberband." He vowed before leaving the stage that he'd one day headline this venue. Let's hope his dream comes true.

By night's end, those that caught the whole show had racked up four hours of music. Now that's getting your money's worth! And you can bet many in the audience drove away with hearts full of beautiful new Paisley memories.