Since releasing his debut album Who Needs Pictures in 1999 (yes really), Brad Paisley has become one of the biggest stars in country music. He’s sold over 11 million records – releasing his 11th studio album, Love And War, back in 2017 – and had 19 number one singles, won three Grammys and 14 CMA Awards (as well as hosting the ceremony for 11 years alongside Carrie Underwood). On top of that, he’s worked with everyone from Dolly Parton and Alabama to Keith Urban and Eric Church, and wowed audiences around the world with his live shows. After headlining C2C: Country to Country in 2014 and 2017, last night he returned to London’s O2 Arena as part of his current world tour.
Accompanied by his band, Paisley arrived on stage shortly after 9pm to huge cheers and kicked off his set with Southern Comfort Zone, from his 2013 album Wheelhouse. The rocky, high-energy number had a driving rhythm and soaring bridge that showed off Paisley’s vocals, as well as highlighting his stage presence as he ran from one side of the stage to the other. Right from the off it was clear that he’s a seasoned performer and the whole production runs like a well-oiled machine, leaving you feeling in incredibly safe hands.
The next two hours were a jam-packed, whistle-stop tour through Paisley’s hits – and they are certainly plenty of them! From the cheeky Ticks to the singalong chorus and quickfire verses of The World, via the lively Water (which saw Paisley hitting some impressive big notes) and Celebrity, Paisley showed that he’s got a back catalogue absolutely stuffed with fan favourites and certainly knows how to start a party. He also brought out opener Chris Lane for a performance of the rollicking I’m Still A Guy, which ended with the two of them snapping a selfie on an audience member’s phone.
One thing which struck me throughout Paisley’s performance was his level of showmanship. He’s got a real knack for knowing how to work the crowd, mixing humour with sincerity and balancing the more uptempo numbers with slower songs. A great example of this was on American Saturday Night, which saw him deliver a rattling guitar riff before jumping down into the crowd, as well as encouraging the audience to join in on the likes of the twangy, uptempo Old Alabama which saw him making his way through the audience to a small stage at the back of the arena (more on that shortly), and handing out not one but two signed guitars to young fans in the crowd.
Meanwhile the nostalgic Last Time For Everything, which finished with a cover of Prince’s Purple Rain, the sharp, tongue-in-cheek I’m Gonna Miss Her and a mash-up of his own uptempo, summery River Bank with Alan Jackson’s 90s classic Chattahoochee all saw Paisley showing off the range of styles on his music. I always think one of his strengths is that he doesn’t have a signature song, but instead runs the gamut of styles, and it clearly works for him as the whole audience was singing along throughout.
However, for me the strongest moments of the set came during the slower numbers. Perfect Storm was an early highlight, showing off the depth and emotion in Paisley’s voice as well as a little bit of gravel, whilst the heartfelt, piano-led Then made me well up, She’s Everything was packed with detail and saw Paisley hit a great high note at the end, and his classic rock-influenced new single My Miracle featured a kiss-cam and on-stage proposal! But it’s not all about the ballads – the acoustic This Is Country Music brought out the warmth and soulfulness in Paisley’s vocal before picking up into a full arena singalong on the chorus as videos of country legends past were projected onto a backdrop of the Grand Ole Opry.
One particular highlight for me was when Paisley brought out British country duo Ward Thomas to join him on Whiskey Lullaby. The song’s sparse, stripped-back approach put the emphasis on the blend of their vocals as well as the story of the song, and made it an incredibly simple but powerful moment. I also loved the acoustic section he performed at the back of the arena, including the delicate We Danced and the twangy Letter To Me, which showed off his skill as a songwriter (and got the biggest cheer of the night as he hit some effortless notes), as well as the sunny, carefree Crushin’ It.
Paisley closed the main portion of his set with a lively version of the cheeky Mud On The Tires, featuring some very impressive guitar riffs, before moving into Today. The crowd lit up the arena with their mobile phone lights as Paisley performed the anthemic song and it was a really special way to end the show, with the audience bursting into roars of approval and demanding more as he finished.
For his encore, Paisley performed The Mona Lisa, which got the audience clapping and singing along, as well as dancing the now-infamous Mona Conga which he namechecked from the stage. He then shocked us all by bringing out Keith Urban to join him on a rapid-fire performance of Workin’ Man Blues. It was great to see them jamming out together and they both looked like they were having an absolute whale of a time. Finally, Paisley drew things to a close with the barroom vibes of Alcohol, which saw Ward Thomas and Chris Lane return to the stage alongside him and Urban. The crowd sang to every word at the top of their lungs and it definitely ended the whole show on a high.
Brad Paisley definitely brought the party to the O2 last night with a slick, high-energy, star-studded set that was a ton of fun and had great energy throughout. He showed off his incredible skill as a vocalist, songwriter and guitar player and it was a brilliantly entertaining performance. I really enjoyed seeing all the different sides of his sound and it’s clear why he’s stayed at the top of this business for so long – that combination of talent, humour and showmanship really is a winner. Bring on the next tour already!
Set list: 1.Southern Comfort Zone 2. Ticks 3. The World 4. Perfect Storm 5. Water 6. Then 7. She’s Everything 8. Celebrity 9. A Country Boy Can Survive/I’m Still A Guy (with Chris Lane) 10. This Is Country Music 11. American Saturday Night 12. My Miracle 13. Last Time For Everything/Purple Rain (Prince cover) 14. Old Alabama 15. We Danced 16. Letter To Me 17. Crushin’ It 18. I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song) 19. The Nervous Breakdown 20. River Bank/Chattahoochee (Alan Jackson cover) 21. Whiskey Lullaby (with Ward Thomas) 22. Mud On The Tires 23. Today 24. The Mona Lisa (with Keith Urban) 25. Workin’ Man Blues (with Keith Urban) 26. Alcohol Performance date: 12th October 2019