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Brad Paisley at Xcel Energy Center on Saturday night.

Tom Wallace, Star Tribune

Paisley joins Keillor, then takes his yee-haw to the X

  • Article by: JON BREAM
  • Star Tribune
  • January 16, 2012 - 1:17 AM

Saturday night brought a curious confluence to downtown St. Paul: the Sportsmen's Show, the Red Bull Crashed Ice finals and the Brad Paisley concert. Fishin', Red Bull and country music. Yee-haw!

Sure sounds like a Paisley song.

But he's also urbane enough to have stopped by "A Prairie Home Companion" for a couple of songs and a skit Saturday before heading over to sold-out Xcel Energy Center. Paisley may sing about George Jones, George Strait and Alabama but he also mentions Frank Sinatra, John Coltrane and Barry White in song. Paisley is as much PHC (hey, Garrison, he'd be the perfect replacement host if he'd quit his day job) as he is CMA (he's cohosted those awards with quick-witted panache for the past four years). Truth be told, he's more clever wordsmith than barroom poet, more guitar freak than honky-tonk hero, more computer geek than hell-raising redneck.

That may explain why 10 days ago, Paisley announced that he was changing the name of his 2012 concert trek from the earthy Camobunga Tour to the Virtual Reality Tour. What he brought to St. Paul on Saturday certainly had some high-tech highlights but the visual wow factor was down from other recent Paisley performances in the Twin Cities. So was the energy for some reason -- especially for a Saturday night. Maybe he could have used a shot of Red Bull after his visit to Lake Wobegon.

Not that Paisley, 39, wasn't entertaining; he always is. But following Keith Urban's phenomenal tour-ending concert by a few months, this early-tour show felt a little too stagey and a little too familiar (surprisingly for such a savvy showman). To be sure, Paisley took many tasty runs on guitar, showing his versatility in rock, blues, twang, surf -- you name it. But his voice was as plain as his first name, though his songs are often as colorful as his surname.

Some of his novelty songs, such as "Online," don't age as well as his classics like "I'm Gonna Miss Her (the Fishin Song)" and "Whiskey Lullabye" (done with opener, the Band Perry, with the increasingly impressive Kimberly Perry). At least, he did a nice job of setting up the light-hearted "Still a Guy" with a silly albeit familiar playful rant about having to watch "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette" and discuss them with his wife.

When Paisley opts to be serious, he doesn't always pull it off live. On Saturday, the mushy "She's Everything" felt like a bland one-note ballad. By contrast, "Then" sounded like it should have been a Journey power ballad -- and Paisley even delivered a long-winded guitar passage that suggested Journey's Neal Schon.

Paisley's best move of the night lived up to the Virtual Reality moniker: He had Carrie Underwood singing on a holographic device that made it look as if she were really there for their "Remind Me" duet. Minneapolis guitar man Brian Setzer was really onstage for the closing "Alcohol" as was opener, Scotty McCreery, who needs a reality check: Why is an 18-year-old high school athlete celebrating booze?

During McCreery's own set, the reigning "American Idol" seemed more relaxed than he was two months ago at Mystic Lake Casino. It's too bad that his voice was often obscured by his too-loud band. The Band Perry's lead singer Kimberly Perry seemed more comfortable and confident than in her appearance last year at the X opening for Tim McGraw. Even though it lacks a well of strong original tunes, the sibling trio's aplomb on the crossover smash "When I Die Young," the current country hit "All Your Life" and covers of Rihanna, Tom Petty and Queen suggested why they are worthy nominees for the Grammy for best new artist.

The American Idol, the Grammy darlings and Mr. CMA Awards made for a crowd-pleasing confluence at the X.

set list: startribune.com/artcetera

@jonbream • 612-673-1719

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