Brad Paisley and three opening acts hit North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Thursday night flying under the incongruous moniker of The Weekend Warrior Tour. While it was likely that the non-weekend date kept the concert hall a few warriors shy (attendance was slightly north of 5,500 souls), there was no mistaking the enthusiasm for Paisley’s brand of high-octane, high laugh-count country.
Early on in the show Paisley brought out “This Is Country Music,” an upbeat tribute to the genre where, as he rightly notes, you can sing about Jesus and cancer as well as tractors and trucks. (Sure enough about an hour or so later Paisley tackled his own truck-happy hit, “Mud on the Tires.”) In other displays of his country bona fides, George Straight was named-checked in a couple of songs and Paisley’s band included a fiddle and pedal steel guitar.
The Verizon show found Paisley at an interesting point in his career that is over a decade old, nicely supplied with hits and now includes regular gigs hosting award ceremonies. Paisley’s last album, Love and War, is among his strongest but Thursday’s concert didn’t quite dwell on or go out of its way to promote the record. He did sing the rousing title track and bought out four veterans to salute them and treat them to a beer (the stage was equipped with two bars that were occupied by fans most of the night).
During most of the night, Paisley demonstrated his great, not-so-secret weapon – his sense of humor. This was amply displayed in his dry stage patter (he wondered if the Razorback was the only college mascot you could eat) and his novelty songs such as “Online” and “One Beer Can” (the party in the house video that played on the big screen behind Paisley and his band during that song was spot on).
Yes, Paisley has his serious side – his great romantic anthem “Then” was most impressive. His guitar playing is regularly mind-blowing (he changed guitars often during the concert – sometimes in mid-song). In general country music in 2018, the fun is deemphasized and replaced with earnest anthems and empty rock moves. Paisley’s reach can exceed his grasp, no doubt, and sometimes his jokes fall flat. His country music, however, as was shown on Thursday night is a clever, bright and heartfelt place -- that is noteworthy whatever the label.