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"This is the Paisley Party," country star Brad Paisley declared Friday at the State Fair. "This being an election year, we're the only party that matters. We're holding our convention this evening, right here."
If he's running for the Country Music Association's entertainer of the year, Paisley made a convincing and compelling case. He unquestionably would have received the votes of all 12,963 grandstand-goers. It was a musically satisfying, emotionally fulfilling and visually exciting show.
If you put it in baseball terms, Paisley, 35, is one of country's few five-tool players. On Friday, he proved that he's a terrific songwriter, great guitarist, pretty fair singer, delightful personality (with a wonderful sense of humor) and inspired entertainer (he may be the only star who creates his own animated videos).
Paisley may not have the exuberance of Keith Urban, the forcefulness of Toby Keith or the raw energy of Kenny Chesney. But he touched all the right bases at the grandstand. He sang about traditional country topics (fishing and drinking) and modern ones (computer dating and metrosexuality). He got sentimental ("Letter to Me" about writing to himself at 17) and silly ("Online" about making up a dating profile). He was poignant ("Whiskey Lullabye," with guest vocalist Alison Krauss via video) and playful ("Let the Good Times Roll," with guest guitarist B.B. King via video).
Paisley's voice can be a little plain, which was apparent when he duetted with Jewel on "That's the Way Love Goes," and his manner can be a little too easy-going. But those qualities could be overlooked when you factor in the versatility and vitality of his guitar work and his songs, and the creativity of his presentation, including making up a video game called "Guitar Zero" featuring Little Jimmy Dickens and Taylor Swift, and crafting a cartoon featuring him as a Western-styled James Bond during which he and his fine band cranked out a surf-guitar instrumental.
In the end, what stood out in Paisley's well-rounded 1 ¾-hour performance were his versatility and creativity. The guy leading the Paisley Party sure sounds like a winner.
However, the other acts on the ticket didn't really help his cause. Chuck Wicks, a reality-TV hunk in an AC/DC T-shirt, was aggressively mediocre, and Jewel, a vision in black and white, was aggressively flip-flop, going back and forth from her pop hits to her wannabe country hits and then branching off to jazz, folk, gospel and yodeling. Well, at least, she's not a one-note candidate.
For a set list and fan comments, go to www.startribune.com/poplife
Jon Bream • 612-673-1719