Live review: Brad Paisley at Staples Center
Over the course of seven increasingly sophisticated albums since 1999, Brad Paisley has established one of country music’s more compelling personas: He’s the ordinary guy constantly on the verge of being overwhelmed by extraordinary circumstances, be they emotional (songs about the miracle of parenthood), cultural (songs about the shifting definition of masculinity) or technological (songs about this here gosh-dang Internet).
On Friday night at Staples Center, where he brought his current tour in support of last year’s album “American Saturday Night,” Paisley appeared determined to have his fans experience that point of view for themselves. This was a nearly two-hour country concert in which the threat of sensory overload never seemed more than a few seconds away.
After a solid but unremarkable opening set by Texas firebrand Miranda Lambert, the show began -- like many of his songs -- with a fake-out: Paisley performing “Start a Band” by himself behind a microphone designed to resemble the one at Nashville’s Grand Ole Opry. Then a scrim dropped, the singer’s state-of-the-art stage set materialized, and we were suddenly knee-deep in the title track from “American Saturday Night,” a backyard barbecuer’s ode to the wonders of international free trade.
“Welcome to the weekend,” Paisley declared to a huge round of cheers. “It’s Friday and you don’t have to go to work tomorrow.”
Which didn’t mean we didn’t have to work Friday night: Leading his seven-piece band in front of a bank of enormous video screens, Paisley offered so much visual and musical information that ingesting (let alone decoding) it all sometimes felt like a struggle.
During “Celebrity,” the screens depicted a series of country music stars playing along to Paisley’s song in Guitar Hero; whether or not we were supposed to infer anything from Taylor Swift’s quick defeat was unclear. For “Online,” the stage became a computer desktop, with giant browser windows (some featuring real-time footage from the show) competing for virtual real estate. “Waiting on a Woman,” a relatively sedate rumination on how long it takes ladies to choose an outfit, gave us the remarkable sight of Andy Griffith in a white suit sitting beatifically on a bench in heaven.
Throughout all this, Paisley complemented his supremely clever wordplay with a sort of ongoing guitar solo; on more than one occasion, he took a stroll around the venue’s floor while peeling off fleet-fingered licks by the dozen.
The stimulation reached a dizzying climax near the end of the show during “Welcome to the Future,” which Paisley has called the most important song he’s ever written. It starts small, with the singer marveling at the fact that he can play Pac-Man on his phone, then goes wide-screen with a nod toward the social ramifications of President Obama’s election.
The motivating idea is “Gee whiz!” on a grand scale, and at Staples, Paisley packed the moment with as much as he could: lasers, a Space Age synthesizer line, images of robots and the Statue of Liberty and kids with prosthetic limbs running around like kids with limbs of the flesh-and-blood variety.
The effect was exhausting but oddly energizing as well. Having spent more than a decade narrating the experience of inundation, Paisley has begun to accrue some sense of the spectacle he describes. He’s becoming bigger than his own music, and it’s a transformation that can be thrilling to watch.
-- Mikael Wood
Photo: Brad Paisley performs at Staples Center in Los Angeles. Credit: Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times