“Brad” was often the response at will call to the question “Who left the tickets for you?”
Patrons meant headliner Brad Paisley. First Niagara Pavilion is really a home game for the Glen Dale, W Va., native, who grew up seeing shows there, and a fair share of his devotees is usually comped for his annual appearance. Saturday night was only the second stop on the Country Nation World Tour.
There are 21 tracks on his latest record, “Wheelhouse,” but he featured very few numbers from it and instead delivered a majority of older hits that are right in his, and his fans’ (well, you know).
He showed why he is known as country’s best shredder by opening with a scorching version of “Moonshine In The Trunk.” The speed-picking clinic would continue for the remainder of the evening with various Telecasters falling victim to his lighting fast fretwork.
Though he clearly leans toward the contemporary end of the country spectrum, his songs still espouse the core values of the genre; be it drinking or the machismo of “I’m Still a Guy” to the tender “Then.”
Mr. Paisley is one of country’s most tech-savvy stars. He chooses most of the animation and has creative input into every aspect of the massive production. That said, the roughly 80-foot projection screen proved to be a double-edged sword. It proved amusing while showing the video of Paisley’s caricature puppet dancing Gangham-style during “Celebrity” but was overwhelming with the laser stars and Captain America comic book art backing “American Saturday Night.”
He walked through the aisles to perform an acoustic mini set on a B-stage to the lawn. He pulled out John Denver’s “Country Roads” for obvious reasons.
The evening was full of local references to the delight of 21,000 fans. From referencing his own John Marshall High School to substituting “Steeler tattoo” in the chorus of “Ticks” he equally pleased both factions from opposite ends of Route 18.
The night’s most entertaining moment came when keyboardist Kendal Marcy challenged Mr. Paisley to duplicate various piano licks on his guitar. The material covered everything from AC/DC to the famous theme song, “Let It Go.” Of course he capped it off with “Alcohol.” It is almost as trademarked a number as Skynyrd’s “Freebird.”
In a relatively short period of time, Mr. Paisley has gone from a youngster sitting on the lawn at Star Lake to rocking First Niagara. Talk about same place, different story. Not bad for a West Virginia boy.
Newcomers Charlie Worsham’s banjo and Leah Turner’s bluesy voice were well received in the pre-opener slot and Randy Houser got the crowd fired up with his unique country rock.
Michael Rampa is a freelance writer.