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Oldies But Goldies: Brad Paisley Live At MSG, October 2009 And The Sensitive Cowboy

09-Brad-Paisley-Madison-Square-Garden-10-21-2009

(I had been a huge Brad Paisley fan since seeing him open for Loretta Lynn at the Town Hall in 1999, that was a couple of months before his debut album was released. I clearly remember going to the Tower  Records on West 4th Street to buy it the day it was released. But here I am, ten years later, and things have changed… IL)

In honor of a night of sensitive cowboys who “still have a pair” let me put Mr and Mrs Paisley front and center. Brad Paisley is the hugely popular country rock star and Mrs. Paisley is the bride from the old Steve Martin Father Of The Bride. Apparently they are very happy.

Tonight the first sensitive fellow is Jimmy Wayne, a soulful country singer with a good band and a better violinist. Wayne is very comfortable with them and they are a tight, strong band. But the songs aren’t quite there yet -the melodies don’t cut strong enough. The highligh’s are a raver called “Cowboys and Indians” and an excellent cover of Hall and Oates “Sara Smile” to close the set. Give Wayne a little more time and maybe they’ll emerge big time…

Dierks Bentley is big enough to headline shows himself and his performance tonight was just fine. Bentley does have the songs for sure, and he has an easy rapport with the audience, and with his curly brown hair and wide face, the girls sure do like him. I think he is pretty good though I could do without stuff like some song about his last name. I have problems with people finding self-respect in aspects of their life they have nothing to do with. Like who they are born from or where they are born. The song is nauseating. But he also has a good line of patter with the chicks, “”Come a little closer babym I feel like laying you down”! The set is bracketed by two terrific numbers, “Sideways” (as in “”gonna get a little bit sideways”) and even more so a song Bentley may never improve upon, “Free And Easy (Down The Road I Go)” -a banjo extravaganza as addictive as the title might give you the impression.

Both Bently and Wayne are talented fellows for sure but neither have the swagger for a room the size of Madison Square Garden -they are pleasant but somewhat passive. It’s a problem for them but a real big problem for Paisley.Paisley starts off solo strumming “Start A Band” before the band joins him and he reels off “Another Saturday Night”, “Mud On The Tires”, “Wrapped Around Her Finger” , “Celebrity”…. bang, bang, bang. And Paisley is a great guitarist, confortable with country riffs and hard rock riffs, can move to blues or finger pick. So what’s not to like?

None of them are very inspired versions and Paisley is such an every man he doesn’t take hold of the stage. He doesn’t nail a song till the coda to “Waiting For A Woman” where he stands in front of a screen projecting a desert with a white bench (Andy Griffith is the guy waiting in the video) and Paisley playing stage left and the trummed and picked licks are gorgeous.

There are other moments, lotsa them, and Paisley lets the videos he projects do a fair amount of work for him and if that means the entire band playing “Water” in front of a waterfall I’m okay with that.. Paisley is quite comfortable standing center stage plucking his acoustic guitar or noting playing MSG impressed his native New Yorker wife, though the 400s seats are closed. But time after time he fails to grasp the audience. I’ve seen two of his contempories at MSG in the past coupla years, Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban, and neither are as good with a song as Paisley, and both gave better performance. Urban in particular has a sexual swagger and emotional detonation Paisley simple can’t equal.

I don’t want to overstate the case against a man who can write songs as great (and perform them as well) as set highlight “Then” or “The World”. “To the world you may be just another girl but to me, baby, you are the world.” Paisley sang. I once wrote a less than thrilled live review of Los Campesinos and a reader said I should stop thinking so much and enjoy the music. The person was right but I do think about music and I think I am going to think about this concert a little more in the days to come.

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