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Review: Brad Paisley wows WE Fest crowd with best show so far

Brad Paisley rips out a guitar solo during his performance at WE Fest Friday night in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Brian Basham / Forum News Service

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. – Sometimes it’s not so bad for good guys to finish last. Especially if the good guy in question is Brad Paisley.

The singer/guitarist closed out the second night of WE Fest with the best concert the country music festival has seen, well, since Paisley headlined a few years ago.

While he had an impressive light and video show with him, what made his set so enjoyable was that he didn’t rely on technology to wow the crowd, he took it into his own hands.

Known in the industry as being one of nice guys, it took him only two songs to prove it by going over to the crowd on one side of the stage and introducing himself with an up-close guitar solo during the humorous “Ticks.”

WE Fest has one of the biggest stages in the country, but Paisley made it seem cozy as he worked the space from side to side.  By the third song, “American Saturday Night,” he even broke down the fourth wall, jumping down from the stage to play closer to the crowd of about 50,000. It was enough to make you forget the cool cartoon images of Captain America and The Falcon up on the big screen behind the stage.

Paisley knew when to let the theatrics do their work, showing clips of his humorous videos and the choir in “Southern Comfort Charm,” a clever way of acknowledging the pre-recorded singing piped in. The screen also brought back to life two of Paisley’s friends, Andy Griffith in “Waiting on a Woman” and George Jones in “This is Country Music.”

The latter song would’ve been in the wheelhouse for many WE Fest artists who feel the need to tout their authenticity and humble beginnings. (Earlier in the day Chris Janson boasted about being raised in a trailer, and Randy Houser talked about coming from a town of 400 before nervously moving to Nashville.) But it’s a one-off for Paisley, who prefers to let his sense of humor do the talking.

How many other country artists could write a song acknowledging their fame like “Celebrity?” Paisley revived the 13-year-old song with video clips of a mascot of himself, complete with ridiculously large head and cowboy hat, riding a wrecking ball, a la Miley Cyrus. The mascot even made its way onto the stage.

“That is the sexiest Muppet I’ve ever seen, right there,” he quipped.

While other performers’ between-song banter seemed canned, when Paisley did talk, it felt off the cuff.

“I forgot to tell you, there’s no cellphones, videos or photos allowed tonight. I didn’t get into this to be photographed,” he joked, two songs after taking a selfie with a fan’s phone during “I’m Still a Guy” and a video of himself singing “She’s Everything” with another fan’s phone.

Paisley is so considerate, he even played a song (“Then”) for those wanting to make out.

A fine singer, he doesn’t have as distinctive a voice as Houser, but he more than compensates for it with his guitar playing. Paisley pulled off solo after solo throughout his set, even matching Eddie Van Halen on a rendition of “Hot for Teacher.”

A good guy until the last note, Paisley treated the Detroit Lakes crowd to a trifecta of boating and fishing tunes (“I’m Gonna Miss Her,” “Water” and “River Bank”) before letting local guitarist Dan Brekke throw down his own licks during the encore, “Alcohol.”

“Promise me you’ll try to remember a little bit of this concert,” he said before “Mud on the Tire.”

No problem. This show will go down as one of WE Fest’s most unforgettable acts in recent years.