Brad Paisley

CMA Writers Series at Joe’s Pub

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Last night was our 12th CMA Songwriters Series show at Joe’s Pub. We look forward to all of them (and buy our tickets the minute the shows are announced).

We were even more excited about last night’s show when our friend in Nashville told us that Jessi Alexander was very special. Since this is the same friend who recommended we see Jeffrey Steele live, we knew not to take her opinion lightly. 🙂

I’m going to bury the headline down below, just because I don’t want to take away from the wonderful talented people who sang their hearts out and kept us entertained all evening with their stories. So, if you want the big news, you’ll have to keep reading, or skim/skip a ways down…

Sitting left to right on the stage:

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Bob DiPiero was left-most this time (first time that he wasn’t in the middle in all 12 of our shows!). He’s always entertaining (musically, as MC and as comedian), but he was even more on last night. I think it was a combination of a few reasons, all of them positive, but one of them would ruin my headline surprise, so I’ll leave it at that.

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Jessi Alexander sang and played acoustic guitar. Jessi sings beautifully and writes superb songs. She is a co-writer on Miley Cyrus’ huge hit The Climb.

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I confess to knowing very few of Miley’s songs. I’ve never watched Hannah Montana, etc. However, we do watch a few hours of GAC (Great American Country) TV most weekends, and catch a number of the top videos of the week. The very first time I saw Miley’s The Climb video, I fell in love with the song. When Lois came back into the room I told her how shocked I was that I reacted so strongly to it.

Ironically, Miley’s movements in the video are distracting, so there’s nothing about the video that made me like the song. In fact, overcoming her overacting to fall in love with the song is what made me realize what an excellent song it was. So, it was a very nice treat to see/hear Jessi do it last night. I still love Miley’s version sonically. 🙂

Jon Randall sang and played acoustic guitar (all forms, rhythm, flat picking, finger picking, etc.). Let’s get the bottom line out of the way first: he’s amazing!

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Jon has a great voice (absolutely star performer quality). He writes great songs (you’ve probably seen/heard Whiskey Lullaby, cut by Brad Paisley and Alison Krauss). He is one of the best guitar players that we’ve seen at a CMA show.

Jon happens to be married to Jessi Alexander. That may be one of the reasons that Bob sat on an end last night instead of the middle, so that Jessi and Jon could sit near each other. Jon accompanied Jessi on every one of her songs, and they sang harmony together on both of their numbers, beautifully.

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Mark Sanders sang and played acoustic guitar. I couldn’t find a link to a web site or MySpace page devoted to him, so I linked his name to an old article (1997) that might give you a good background on Mark.

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He’s an incredible songwriter. Don’t take it from me, he was recently inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of fame (Bob DiPiero is an inductee as well). He has written quite a number of smash hits, including one of our all-time favorites, I Hope You Dance (cut by Lee Ann Womack).

Mark is not much of a singer, and he pointed that fact out all night (in extremely funny fashion). He praised Jon over and over, and boy, is he right about that.

None of that matters. He writes extraordinary songs, plays the guitar well enough, and delivers the emotion associated with the person who actually conceived of and wrote the song, which is precisely what we love to hear!

In fact, all of the above would be enough for us to have been thrilled to see Mark last night. But wait, there’s more! If you order now… 😉

Mark is one of the funniest, natural, spontaneous people we’ve seen (not just at a CMA show, but in general). He kept us in stitches all night. Mark has also written a lot with Bob (including some smash hits), so they know each other well.

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We believe that one of the of factors that made Bob a bit different (and better!) last night was their shared history, love of having a good time together, and knowing that Mark would make fun of anything Bob said that might sound serious. 😉

We got to hear the story behind Daddy’s Money (a song we’ve heard Bob sing more than 10 times) and it was awesome! The inspiration behind the songs is fascinating to us.

Their banter was so funny that Jessi commented that she and Jon had to sit between them to keep them separated. 🙂

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OK, finally, the buried headline.

About 1/2 way through the show, Bob announced that we had a superstar in the audience, and with some encouragement, he was likely to agree to come on stage. No extra prodding was necessary.

A minute later, rising from the second level was none other than Troy Gentry of Montgomery Gentry. He walked through the crowd and climbed on to the stage. He performed two songs (singing and playing acoustic guitar), both written by Bob DiPiero. The first was Montgomery Gentry’s first #1 hit, If You Ever Stop Loving Me. He followed that with the crowd favorite Gone (which the crowd begs Bob to sing at every show!).

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He was awesome. He commented that he hasn’t played an acoustic set in a very long time, and he was nervous, because he’s usually surrounded by the giant sound of a large electric band. Troy, no need to worry, we’ll be thrilled to welcome you back onto the small stage any time. You owned it! 🙂

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Another great CMA night at Joe’s Pub. The next one is expected to be in March 2010, no specific date set yet. Barring an unmovable scheduling conflict (and there might indeed be one if the CMA is near March 12th), we’ll be there!

Brad Paisley at MSG

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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).

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

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They did a creative bit with Guitar Hero playing in the background:

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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:

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!