f you've heard many of Brad Paisley's studio records, you know at least some of what to expect - for sure, there will be a mixture of the fun and funny with the tender and teary. Then throw in some blistering guitar work, and don't forget the celebration of grown-up beverages.
A Brad Paisley concert is no different. Parking spots were already scarce a full two hours before the show, as fans wanted to ensure they were in the right "spirits." They also had burgers and cornhole games to complete. These things take time.
Now while the uninformed may think New Jersey is an odd place to find country music, natives know better. In parts of the state, tractors are far more common than shopping malls. And there's never been a report of the Jersey Devil at the Newark Airport.
Everyone on the bill, including openers Chase Bryant and Dustin Lynch, seemed surprised by the massive reception from the packed house, and the cool summer night rounded out the recipe for a perfect musical evening.
Paisley's new album "Love and War" was featured prominently. The fact it's a video-album (every track has an accompanying visual clip) helped in providing ready-made backdrops for the massive screen. Throughout the night, Paisley could do no wrong with the rabid fans - he handed a signed guitar to a little girl (quipping "that's how you make a Taylor Swift") and invited some troops up for applause and beers. While it's not new for country stars to partake of some onstage sipping, it seems groundbreaking to have two operating bars onstage. Boy band outcast Kevin Jonas was at one of them, cheering himself up.
Paisley's studio songcraft takes on a new dimension in person, thanks to the guitar work. "Perfect Storm" and "She's Everything" included extended, Master Class-level riffing. At one point, a roadie came to swap guitars with Paisley, but the star didn't hand over the axe right away. Apparently, there were still a few notes left, and he wanted to squeeze every drop out of that lemon.
The setlist took no prisoners. Paisley tackled nearly every track off his double "Hits Alive" collection. That's all the more impressive since there's been quite a few hits since then (2010). With his rendition of "Water," Paisley planted himself smack in the middle of the crowd, then high-fived his way back to the stage. The guy really knows how to rack up good-guy points.
If there was any disappointment at all to be found, it was that there wasn't a heaping helping of amusing banter. Paisley's a trademark comedian (he basically has the CMA Award hosting gig for life at this point). While he did slip in a good photoshopped joke on Lynch, the night was more about music and great visuals. Who could argue with that? As Paisley put it in the prelude to "Today," another set standout: "Here's the thing. It's Aug. 4th, 2017. We are together and we are alive." People wept as they considered the fleeting nature of time.
Then they got right back to cheerfully singing along with every word of the closer, "Alcohol." That's the magic of a night with Brad Paisley - please tip your waitresses and pay your bar tab. You'll be glad you came.