Live: Brad Paisley Keeps It Real At Jones Beach


Brad Paisley w/ The Band Perry and Easton Corbin
Jones Beach
Friday, June 1

Better than: Going to a show where an aging radio host plays out his mid-life crisis by telling me what music I can and can’t listen to.

He spent the ’90s as a Nashville newcomer attempting to close the decade with his first No. 1 hit, but the past decade has seen Brad Paisley mature into one of the most popular and influential performers in country music, a regular guy who writes endearingly hokey songs about the peculiarities of domestic life, the melting pot that is the United States, and how much he loves water. No, really, it’s better than it sounds: Those hokey songs are often quite clever, and they’re clearly delivered by someone who means every word he sings and can play guitar like it’s nobody’s business. Besides, at the end of the day, who doesn’t love water?

No one, I guess, but his Friday show at Long Island’s Jones Beach would have been a touch more enjoyable if less of it had fallen from the sky and none of it had flooded the area directly in front of the stage, pushing doors back from 4:30 to 7 o’clock. Always charming, Paisley couldn’t help but make light of the situation, slipping into what he considered a New York accent—it wasn’t even close—to express how excited he had been to go ta the beach before leading his band through an inadvertently melancholic take on “Working on a Tan.” Ah, what times we could have had, what memories we could have made, and what tans we could have worked on.

That being said, the area’s biggest country music show in recent memory was far from a disappointment: Aside from a few early career highlights (that first No. 1 hit, “He Didn’t Have to Be,” for instance), Paisley’s played nearly all of his major tunes—more impressive when you remember 2010’s Hits Alive comp ran 25 songs deep and included nothing from last year’s This Is Country Music.

Mostly considered (not without a bit of condescension) a retreat from the more liberal-friendly American Saturday Night, This Is Country Music figured heavily into the setlist, providing a base from which Paisley could attempt a conceptually ambitious stage show: “I named this the Virtual Reality Tour because country music is about what’s real, but it can also put you in a different place,” he explained, sort of—in practice this meant a lot of “Welcome to the Future”-themed animations and a bit where a virtual Carrie Underwood appeared on stage to sing her half of “Remind Me.”

In theory, these displays, like the tabloid stars in “Celebrity” and the basement-dwelling MySpace heartthrob of “Online,” should have affirmed the “realness” of that regular guy, non-virtual reality. But they instead constantly undermined it, occasionally befuddling an audience mostly expecting to hear some good music and work on that tan. (Give me another blog post and I might even try to convince you that this subtle testing of the genre’s limits is more progressive than writing a verse that mentions Rosa Parks and possibly alludes to Obama.)

Either way, even if Carrie Underwood had left fingerprints on the second mic, it’s possible that she still would have been outdone by Kimberly Perry, the vocalist for the sibling trio The Band Perry, who opened the show even when the seats directly before the stage remained flooded. Paisley referred to them as “the hottest band in country music,” but that might be because “the country band whose songs to most often take you to joyful, unexpected places” sounds a bit wordy and “the band who writes the best bridges in country music” a bit backhanded. It’s not. In that opening set, nearly every song (even geographically themed deepish cuts like “Independence” and “Postcards from Paris”) was a singalong, and when they returned for “Whiskey Lullaby,” Kimberly nailed Alison Krauss’s lines so completely that it was easy to forget that her two brothers—not to mention Paisley himself—were onstage at all.

Critical bias: Cold and wet, but never miserable.

Overheard: “This is my first time here since we saw Nine Inch Nails.”—the 50-plus-years-old woman sitting behind me