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Story and Photos By Andy ArgyrakisNine studio albums into his multi-platinum career, Brad Paisley is a firmly established star of modern country music, but one who also holds dearly to the ideals of the genre's forefathers. Sure, he tops today's charts every time out, but the singer/songwriter is also known for some of the scene's most witty and simultaneously socially observant storytelling that resembles the greats of yesteryear, while also revving up the guitars that could get any southern rocker from the '70s quivering in their boots.
As a result, it was no surprise to see Paisley pack out opening night of suburban Chicagoland's summer mainstay the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre (even if this particularly blustery night more closely resembled winter), staging a show as big as any rock n' roller, but never letting the music get lost in the production shuffle. In fact, the 40-year-old and his red hot backing band demonstrated impressive chops right out of the gate, burning through "Mud On The Tires" and "The Mona Lisa" with so much heat it didn't even feel like the outdoor temperatures barely cracked the 40s.
Much of the night's focus turned to 2013's "Wheelhouse," which further demonstrates countless examples of Paisley's unique hybrids. In addition to rocking, rolling and twanging, the disc's guest stars include the legendary Charlie Daniels, hip-hopper LL Cool J, indie rocker Mat Kearney and even Eric Idle (of Monty Python fame). "Southern Comfort Zone" may have given shout outs to Johnny Cash and "Amazing Grace," but it more closely resembled a country-fied Coldplay from a musical perspective, while "Outstanding In Our Field" (featuring guest vocals from openers Chris Young and Lee Brice) was a honky-tonker Kid Rock could probably embrace, accented all the more by a Roger Miller sample.
Come "This Is Country Music," the focus turned to tipping his hat to all the greats that paved the way, accompanied by jumbotron images of Cash, Waylon Jennings, Hank Williams and a special salute to the recently departed George Jones (to name just a few). Shortly thereafter, Paisley turned up the hospitable charm even further, ditching the main stage for an acoustic set just a few rows from the lawn, which found his licks on fire even in the sparse settings of "Waitin' On A Woman," "Online" and "I'm Still A Guy."
Of course being season's kick off, celebrating was probably the main priority and the new "Beat This Summer" fit right alongside past sunny sing-a-longs like "The World" and "Water." While the crowd sported a sea of cowboy hats, there was a whole lot more in Paisley's "Wheelhouse" than the casual onlooker might give him credit for, suggesting anyone who loves classic sensibilities channeled through lively contemporary settings should give him a shot next time he rages through town.
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