Modern country music is in a glut, having run the course commenced in the ’80s by the likes of Garth Brooks, exploded into mainstream mega-success in the ’90s, and finally run into the brick wall that awaits all trends, as ideas begin to run dry and mediocrity and repetition take their seats at the head of the table.
Brad Paisley, who played a rain-drenched and muddy Darien Lake Performing Arts Center on Sunday, is one of the exceptions to this general rule. Paisley rises above the herd primarily on the strength of his guitar playing, which is considerable. Throughout Sunday’s set, Paisley proved that, even if his songw-riting is not quite on the level of true present-day country greats – take Jason Isbell as the most obvious example, but Jamey Johnson and Eric Church will do the trick too – his easy-going demeanor, top-tier backing musicians, and inspired guitar pickin’ still manage to push him toward distinction among his peer group.
Paisley is in the midst of his “Crushin’ It World Tour,” which included a pause to accommodate an opening slot for the Rolling Stones in Nashville last week. On Sunday, he and his band were in fighting shape. The music was solid, incredibly tight in execution and rapid-fire in its delivery. Paisley seemed eager to play as many tunes as humanly possible in his allotted 90-plus minutes. But he’s also quite the showman, and the set-up on Sunday found him working in some tongue-in-cheek visual riffs, including a full-service bar on the stage that seated roughly 20 contest winners, and a massive television that screened videos and allowed fans to play video games. Fun stuff.
The music itself was strong, focusing on newer material, and commencing with the water-themed opening salvos of “River Bank” and, well, “Water,” both of which were delivered with plenty of guitar fire and some healthy interplay between Paisley and his fiddle player and harmony-singing bassist.
The hit “Moonshine In the Trunk” trotted out some good ol’ boy modern country clichés, but was well-received, and again, featured some stellar guitar playing from Paisley. (He threw a diminished lick in among the many blues scale runs favored in modern country, which should have meant something to the guitar players in the audience.)
Paisley has long favored creating multi-act bills showcasing up-and-coming artists in opening slots, and he found an apparent winner in Justin Moore, who commanded the stage with a set that the drenched but excited crowd treated as a headliner-worthy gig in its own right. Moore hammed it up, striding into the arena to play on a satellite platform, glad-handing the crowd and posing for selfies and dedicating a tune – “Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away” – to members of the American military.
Moore’s party-anthems “Small Town Throwdown” and “Bait A Hook” went down well with the Darien crowd, which by halfway through his set seemed to have forgotten about the weather and decided to roll with it. He and his band married pop-country to guitar-heavy southern rock, and fired the crowd up for the main event with considerable vim and vigor.
That main event distinguished himself as one of the stronger instrumentalists in modern country.