Brad Paisley/Dierks Bentley
Madison Square Garden
Thursday, October 22
Today’s lecture topic is manhood. “There are no sissies in New York,” Brad Paisley declares, bantering in the midst of “I’m Still a Guy,” a kindhearted lope that nonetheless asserts that his feminine side has its limits. “If you have the courage to live here, cross the street here, get a cab here — then you’re not a sissy.” Raucous applause. And then it’s time for the verse about “dudes getting facials.” Repeat: This was not a CMJ show.
So Brad is the hat-country star with the least strained blue-state rapport, as evinced by his new jam “Welcome to the Future,” which comes this close to mentioning Obama but settles for equating our country’s racial progress with the fact that he can now play Pac-Man on his phone. All this is clearly spelled out on giant video screens that provide a full DVD’s worth of bizarre imagery: goofy drunk fisherman repeatedly falling out of their boat, various Grand Ole Opry stars (and Taylor Swift) playing a video game called “Guitar Zero,” Andy Griffith in a white suit walking down a lush white-sand beach, black-and-white stills of various celebrities who’ve died recently (Patrick Swayze, Heath Ledger, the Crocodile Hunter), and most notably, cartoon footage (animated by Paisley himself) of Brad as a superhero rescuing various country stars, except when he encounters Toby Keith held captive and being whipped by the Dixie Chicks, he says, “Let’s stay out of this.”
This is a lot to absorb visually, which leaves Brad free to wander down his stage’s various runways and play hot-shit guitar solos during unrepentantly mushy ballads about how much he loves his Hollywood wife. Even during those Journey-esque moments, he’s probably the wittiest songwriter going, in any genre. What truly makes “Letter to Me,” in which super-confident and successful Adult Brad writes a comforting letter to Teenager Loser Brad (yearbook pics on the video screens for reference), is that the first thing Adult Brad does is prove it’s really him by listing the illicit stuff under Teenager Loser Brad’s bed. I feel like a lot of songwriters wouldn’t think to deal with the credulity issue. I will put up with a lot from someone who writes like this: fishing tunes, even. (His songs about alcohol are better than his songs about water, but, I mean, that’s just logical.)
Verily, we gravitate toward the goofier tunes: “Ticks” and “Online,” which he should’ve dedicated to everyone trying to get into the xx show at Mercury Lounge. And “I’m Still a Guy,” of course — just make sure the gun in your truck is registered, Brad. Ask Plaxico Burress how that sort of thing goes over.
Dierks Bentley, the opening act, had about the most fantastic conversation between a performer and a random dude in the crowd I have ever witnessed. On, naturally, the subject of manhood. Dierks suddenly pointed his mic at the poor guy and suggested they go see a movie together.
DIERKS: “Two dudes can hang out. You ever see Old School? Anchorman? The Hangover? I Love You Man?
DUDE IN CROWD: “I love you, too.”
DIERKS: “I was talking about the movie.”