Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013 | 6 a.m.
Country music’s hunks, er, male artists — Keith Urban, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney — are hands down (and Stetsons off?) some of the best live performers around, and Brad Paisley now leads the pack.
Paisley brought his Beat This Summer Tour to Mandalay Bay Events Center on Saturday night — in the thick of the 2013 Labor Day Weekend — and in the four times I’ve seen him in concert, this was his best show yet.
There are so many reasons to like Paisley. The traditional country and Southern rock artist is an underrated (but fortunately an occasionally award-winning) songwriter whose songs and lyrics are catchy, emotional (“When I Get Where I’m Going”), haunting (“Whiskey Lullaby”) and silly (“Ticks”).
Also, nostalgic (“Letter to Me” and “Mud on the Tires,” which takes me back to my Montana upbringing every time) and memorable — and often with a nod to pop culture (“Celebrity,” of which the current incarnation of the accompanying video pokes fun at Psy’s “Gangnam Style”).
Paisley honors his legendary predecessors; during “This Is Country Music,” images of Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette, George Jones and many others flash onscreen. He takes fans’ cellphones and records video. He autographs guitars and gives them to young fans, accompanied by a parent, in the crowd.
Paisley continues to use large LED screens and scrims to great effect; they complement, rather than overpower, his performance. And Paisley, despite all of his success, hasn’t gotten too big for his britches. He still high-fives and signs autographs and doesn’t take himself too seriously, often laughing at himself.
Saturday night’s setlist: “Southern Comfort Zone,” “Mud on the Tires,” “The Mona Lisa,” “American Saturday Night,” “Outstanding in Our Field,” “Celebrity,” “Then,” “She’s Everything,” Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher,” “Old Alabama” and “Waitin’ on a Woman.”
Also, “Online,” “I’m Still a Guy,” “Beat This Summer,” “I’m Gonna Miss Her,” “Remind Me” (the Carrie Underwood hologram continues to fool fans), “Ticks,” “Water” and, the encore, “Alcohol.” He performed “Woman,” “Online” and “Guy” on a small stage in the middle of the crowd on the arena floor.
Paisley has such a big collection of hits now that some of them — “The World,” “Whiskey Lullaby” and “Letter to Me” — were not performed at Mandalay Bay, among them one of my sentimental favorites: “When I Get Where I’m Going” with Dolly Parton.
Paisley — who looks like he could be related to NASCAR star Jimmie Johnson, no? — is such a fantastic all-around performer, though, that I did not depart the concert wanting.
Contest winner Amanda Watkins, Lee Brice and Chris Young served as Paisley’s opening acts (Brice and Young are part of the tour), and Brice and Young were well received by the audience.
In fact, Brice received an extended ovation for “Love You Like Crazy” toward the end of his set, and his new single, “Drinking Class,” is immediately likable. Young, meantime, rocked out an excellent cover of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man.”
Sometimes it pays to see the opening acts, and Brice and Young did their fans, and Paisley, proud. These good ol’ country boys made it an “American Saturday Night” to remember.
Thanks to Tom Donoghue for his photo gallery of Paisley, Young and Brice in concert.
Don Chareunsy is senior editor for arts and entertainment of the Las Vegas Sun.
Robin Leach has been a journalist for more than 50 years and has spent the past decade giving readers the inside scoop on Las Vegas, the world’s premier platinum playground.
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