Brad Paisley didn’t shy away from spectacle during his performance at Saratoga Performing Arts Center Sunday night.
His 90-plus minute headlining set was a show in every sense of the word, featuring everything from laser animation, to video screens, to audience interaction — every song he and his hard-rocking band performed featured some new gimmick or eye candy to draw the attention.
At times, the theatrical aspects of the evening came close to overpowering the music itself. The band took the stage shortly after 9 to a flurry of videos and lasers behind opening number “Southern Comfort Zone,” that made many in the packed house drop their jaws. But as soon as Paisley began tearing into his Telecaster for the first of many shredding guitar solos this evening, it became clear that there would be no shortage of fine playing, either.
The 20-plus song set drew from all of Paisley’s albums with particular attention paid to this year’s “Wheelhouse,” although his controversial “Accidental Racist,” from the new record, was conspicuously absent. Instead, Paisley played things fast, loose and most of all, fun. Even slow-burning ballads such as “She’s Everything” toward the middle of the set were infused with his easygoing charm — during this song, he snatched an audience member’s cellphone, took some video of the crowd, and fielded an incoming text message.
Highlights included “American Saturday Night,” with a video montage of Marvel Comics cartoons; “Celebrity,” which included a masked, big-head Paisley double and an amusing clip of a screaming goat punctuating key moments of the song; and an instrumental mid-section that sampled “Hot For Teacher” and got the whole band shredding.
An acoustic portion played to the lawn crowd later in the set went over particularly well, especially the bouncing “Online,” which belonged to fiddler Justin Williamson and his screaming leads. Even opener Chris Young got in on the action during party anthem “Outstanding in Our Field.”
The only time Paisley really got serious was during “Remind Me,” which featured the singer dueting with a digital version of Carrie Underwood. It was a bit distracting at times, but the emotion of the song came across, and Paisley’s Hendrix-y guitar solo that closed the song was the best playing of the evening, period.
Central Illinois’ The Henningsens, featuring bassist Brian Henningsen and his children, Aaron Henningsen on guitar and Clara Henningsen on lead vocals, kicked things off early at 6:45 with a down-and-dirty four song set. Lee Brice took the stage almost immediately after, injecting the proceedings with earnest party-guy charisma on opening number “Parking Lot Party.” His soaring, soulful vocals on “Love Like Crazy” stood out in particular — he spent most of the song out on the catwalk, roaring out the song’s hook and at one point letting the audience take over while he basked in the adulation.
Second-billed Chris Young and his six-piece band took a more traditional country twang approach than the others on the bill, although he also rocked out hard and often. Lead guitarist Kevin Collier was the most valuable player here, providing sharp Telecaster licks on such early standouts as “Gettin’ You Home” and “Voices.” A countrified cover of ZZ Top’s “Sharp Dressed Man” was the set’s rocking centerpiece, and provided another great vehicle for Collier’s snarling soloing and Young’s earnest vocal delivery.