We own one Brad Paisley CD, which we like, but in general, we don’t know his music all that well. When we saw Brad and Keith Urban perform Start a Band on the CMA Awards show a year ago, we fell in love with the song, and bought it right away. More importantly, it was the first time I paid attention to the fact that Brad is a guitar god!
The only person listed on the bill when we bought tickets was Dierks Bentley, someone who we’ve really liked for a long time. We got a wonderful surprise when we found out a few days ago that Jimmy Wayne was opening the show. More on Dierks and Jimmy after covering Brad’s set.
Most of these big shows open with a bang, from lights out to overwhelming multi-media delights. Brad took the opposite tack, and it worked to perfection! With the lights off, you could hear him playing an acoustic guitar only, and from our seats, make out the fact that he was walking down the runway into the crowd (still in complete darkness).
When the lights came up, they were soft and Brad was alone with the acoustic guitar, playing the intro to Start a Band. He sang a few verses, paused, looked back at the main stage, and voila, the multi-media extravaganza began, ushering in his band, like the song instructs. Very nicely done!
They didn’t complete the song. When he joined them on the main stage, he switched to an electric guitar, and the set continued with another song.
Brad can mesmerize with just an acoustic guitar, even in a place like Madison Square Garden (MSG). With an electric guitar, he really only needs a drum and bass to create a very big sound. But, he doesn’t skimp. He has seven band members (not including him), and they are all really good (no surprise).
I’ve written twice about Keith Urban’s incredible guitar playing, spirit, showmanship stage presence. This isn’t a competition (between them, or anyone else), but Brad has all of that, with a few differences (not necessarily in capability, where I still think Keith is simply mind-boggling on the guitar).
One difference is that Brad takes more solos than Keith does, and most are of longer duration. Fantastic! He’s that good, that it would be a crime if he didn’t. He’s still as generous with highlighting his band members.
We’ve admired Brad as a person in pieces that we’ve read, and in a number of TV appearances. That comes across in spades on stage. His connection with the audience is palpable, and his comfort/ease is truly something to watch. He’s also as energetic as other top performers, running all over the place. Like Keith, he continues to play flawlessly while running at high speeds.
He descended into the crowd as well, as you can see from a shot that Lois got where he wasn’t too far from us. He also ran up on a platform that was above and behind the band, right in front of the big screens. In some shots he was just a silhouette, in others, he was lit up. Half the band joined him up there at least twice. Very cool effects.
While the majority of the numbers are high-energy, Country Rock productions, there are electric ballads , and a few fully acoustic masterpieces thrown in (not just the opener). Basically, he does it all, and he does it all well!
So, just great music, delivered by a great guy, right? Wrong! The entire production is clever, interesting and entertaining. The giant screens behind the stage switch between live shots, appropriate photos and full-blown videos, both animated and shot with cameras. The videos are a mix of professionally produced, and made-to-look-casual outings starring all of the band members. All fun and engaging.
What blew me away was not just the overall creativity (there are a ton of extraordinary people who can hold my interest for hours on end), but that Brad was credited with a number of things, including the animation in a cool super-hero send-up starring Brad and many other Country stars. He’s simply talented at anything he sets himself to. Bravo!
They did a creative bit with Guitar Hero playing in the background:
Toward the end of the show someone near the stage boosted their son on their shoulders. The kid was wearing a cowboy hat like Brad wears, and Brad sang right to him, leaned down and high-fived the kid, who took off his hat and tipped it to Brad and the crowd. Precious!
I called out Keith for his generosity to his band and entire crew and we continue to applaud him. Brad continues that spirit and tradition in his own creative way.
The band members are introduced in a special video that shows their name and what instruments (yes, most play multiple ones) they play. At the end, they also had a full-blown Credits video, like Keith. It included everyone (band, crew, caterers, bus and truck drivers, etc.). We love it.
Unfortunately, as with the other two artists from last night, Brad’s web page doesn’t make it easy to find the band members names. They’re all good, but I would personally highlight the fiddle player and the drummer. The guitarist is really good too, but for the most part, Brad is playing lead. On occasion, Brad isn’t, and when I paid attention, there was still an excellent lead guitar sound, so I know there’s another guy wailing on that as well!
After the credits rolled, as the crowd was walking out, they put up a video of the entire crew (dozens of people), dancing a Broadway style big production. A nice touch to give them some exposure (as Keith did by bringing the crew out on stage!), and a fun way to end the evening with a laugh.
As we were walking out, Lois excitedly said to me that this is the best show she’s ever seen. Then, knowing that I know that she rarely wants me to print statements like that, because she’s overly sensitive about hurting anyone else’s feelings, she said: “And you can quote me on that!”. Wow, there you go, you’re quoted. 🙂
Brad was on stage for 110 minutes including a very generous encore, which included both Dierks and Jimmy joining him to sing one number together.
Bolstering the middle of this great night of music was Dierks Bentley. He’s another major talent, backed by a very talented band. He had four people backing him up. While Dierks played rhythm guitar on a few numbers, he’s really a singer/performer, with a very tight band behind him.
He played a number of our favorites, but the rest of the crowd knew every single song (better than we did) and loved every single song. As is the case with all of these giant MSG shows, each performer gets a somewhat bigger production than the one before them, culminating with the headliner (Brad in this case). So, Dierks had more going on with the screens, etc., than Jimmy did, but nothing compared to Brad.
His lead guitar player is incredible. His pedal steel guitar player is incredible (he also played the banjo on a few numbers). The drummer is something special too. He too spent the time to talk about each of them (something we completely appreciate), but I can’t find them mentioned by name on his site…
Dierks was awesome, and held the crowd’s complete attention for 50 minutes!
Here are some shots of all of them together at the end of their set:
Opening the show was Jimmy Wayne. We saw Jimmy Wayne play at Joe’s Pub on May 21st, 2009 and I wrote about the show in this post. Jimmy was fabulous that night, so we were excited to see him again. Of course, MSG wouldn’t and couldn’t be anything like a Joe’s Pub experience, so I was both nervous and interested to see what the differences would be.
Just like Dierks, Jimmy had four band-members backing him up. Also like Dierks, he didn’t play too much guitar (though we know from the CMA show that he’s a good guitarist!). His band is really good too, every person! Jimmy is like a kid in a candy store, loving every second on the stage and infecting the crowd with his enthusiasm.
I was impressed (and I admit a bit surprised) at how well he carries off the big stage persona, given how well he handled the intimate setting at Joe’s Pub. He’s a natural performer and makes the best of whatever the situation calls for.
His guitar player has been a friend for 20 years, and is superb. His drummer is the band leader and was excellent as well. The bassist is solid, and sang nice harmony with Jimmy.
The standout musician (close call, because the guitarist was exceptional) was Jake Clayton. Jimmy said he plays 27 instruments (are there even that many?). 😉 He played the fiddle unbelievably well (including behind his back walking from the center of the crowd down the catwalk back to center stage! He played electric keyboards, guitar and mandolin as well. Oh yeah, and he’s only 22-years-old!
While Jimmy was very generous in his praise of the band, and he did introduce them all by name and tell how he met them and how long they’ve been together, I didn’t write the names down, and I am disappointed to find out that they aren’t named on his website…
I don’t have a single complaint about his set last night, it was wonderful. That said, I felt way more connected to him and his music in the more intimate environment. As I mentioned in that post, he writes and performs from the heart, and that comes across so much better in an effectively one-on-one performance more so than it does at MSG, where he’s just another excellent Country Star.
We also love the story telling that introduces many songs in the CMA series, for which there is little time (and perhaps little patience on the crowd’s part) in a venue like MSG.
Jimmy was on stage for just under 30 minutes.
I’ve complained about MSG in the past, both the acoustics/volume and the potential to be forced to stand for much of the show. I decided to experiment with our seats last and for the first time, picked seats on the side just above the floor. I was a little worried about the angle.
I’m very glad I did it, as this was by far our best experience at MSG to date. We were significantly closer to the stage (both elevation and distance). We also got very lucky (and are very thankful for it!). Our section was the only one anywhere near us where almost nobody stood throughout the entire show (including no one in the row in front of us, we were in the 2nd row). The section to the right of us had people stand in the front row, forcing everyone else to stand.
Second, for both Jimmy and Dierks, the volume level was perfect. Loud enough, but clear, with no distortion or pain. Unfortunately, literally the only complaint I have about the Brad set is that they cranked the sound significantly from that starting point.
I think they cranked it for three reasons: 1) He’s the big star, and they feel that he has to have a bigger sound, 2) He has three more people in his band, and they feel that they need more volume to get them all heard, and 3) The crowd is fuller and louder, and they feel that they need to pump it up to overcome that and keep the excitement at a fevered pitch.
Unfortunately, a few times it was actually painful and I felt that my left eardrum might vibrate right out of my ear. When we left, and I mentioned that, Lois said her ears were still ringing and she wasn’t happy about it. Also her only complaint of the entire evening.
Even with that, another show that we will never forget, and another set of artists that we will bend ourselves into a pretzel to see whenever we can. Thanks Brad, Dierks and Jimmy for making it a very special night!