Though highly entertaining, Brad Paisley needs a concert reboot

  • Updated: November 17, 2013 - 6:02 PM

Though he is entertaining, he repeats routines from previous tours.

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Brad Paisley is easily country music’s most tech-savvy star. He creates the animation used on the big screens in his concerts, boasts a big hit about computer dating called “Online” and asks fans to utilize his light-show app by holding up their cellphones, on cue, during his performances.

So he might understand the notion that his concerts need a reboot.

Not that his 1¾-hour show Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center wasn’t highly entertaining. If you were seeing him live for the first time, you might have thought it one of the best country concerts you’ve ever experienced — the eye-popping visuals, the expressive guitar work, the balance of seriousness and silliness.

But if you’ve seen Paisley before — this was his sixth Twin Cities headline gig in nine years — you’ve witnessed too many of his moves, routines and special effects before. As Paisley himself might suggest in his metrosexual-discussing “I’m Still a Guy,” it’s time for a makeover.

The 41-year-old stalwart seems to understand that. He took a couple of steps toward reinvention on Saturday by offering “Online” as a sped-up bluegrass ditty and delivering Van Halen’s “Hot for Teacher” with hot guitar licks that would have made Eddie Van Halen proud.

But once again Paisley trotted out Andy Griffith and Carrie Underwood on video screens to sing duets, and once again he closed the main set with the same illusion, by jumping into a deep swimming pool with a glass window at the end of “Water” and then encoring with “Alcohol,” during which opening act Chris Young boozed it up onstage.

Even the moniker for this show — the Beat This Summer Tour — begged for some freshening up. It’s autumn already. Paisley himself acknowledged the confusion Saturday by saying he arranged for the 50-degree temperatures but then asked the 13,000 fans to imagine it being another 30 degrees warmer. Frankly, his modest 2013 hit “Beat This Summer” was disposable breezy pop that would embarrass either Jimmy Buffett or Kenny Chesney — especially after wisecracking Paisley sang the beginning of “Let It Snow” as an introduction.

Well, at least, he’s become Brad-wiser and announced that come January, it will be dubbed the Beat This Winter Tour.

Paisley’s sensitive side was effective Saturday, especially “She’s Everything,” a sweet but plain-spoken love song elevated by his eloquent, emotional guitar work worthy of Carlos Santana.

As always, Paisley’s humor was abundantly evident. There was the programmed stuff such as “Celebrity” with a video of a goat bleating. Then there were the ad-libs, such as the bandleader telling Rochester, Minn.-born drummer Ben Sesar to “beat the bongo Lake Wobebongoist.”

The concert showcased Paisley’s current album, “Wheelhouse,” which is not only his weakest from a songwriting standpoint but it has yet to produce a Top 5 single. “Karate,” a “Wheelhouse” rocker about domestic abuse that featured a rap by Charlie Daniels and Paisley singing “Fire on the Mountain” on a video screen, came off as unnecessarily heavy-handed. However, one new piece, “Outstanding in Our Field,” was right in Paisley’s humor wheelhouse, tipping its hat to Roger Miller in sound and spirit.

Paisley seemed tired at first on Saturday and out of his vocal comfort zone on “Southern Comfort Zone” and flat on “Mud on the Tires.” (Isn’t it embarrassing to be flat on “Tires”?) Those were the show’s first two numbers, but his vocals — never his strong point, anyway — improved by mid-set.

OK, enough complaints already. Here are some makeover suggestions:

• Ditch the cowboy hat. Paisley has a full head of hair so there’s nothing to hide.

• Mix in a couple of parodies like he does on the Country Music Association Awards. Either of this month’s sendups would have worked wonderfully — a Duck Dynasty treatment of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” and “Obamacare by Morning” set to George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning.”

• Have a female opening act who could join him later on one of his hit duets — “Whiskey Lullaby” (done with Alison Krauss) or “Remind Me” (with Underwood). Saturday’s opener Danielle Bradbery, 17, this summer’s “The Voice” champ with a striking voice, would have been perfect on either tune.

• Paisley is such a gifted guitarist that he should do a medley of instrumental versions of classic-rock tunes, say like a ZZ Top boogie, “Layla,” “Black Magic Woman” and a Jimi Hendrix chestnut.

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