The best since Springsteen ’75? Brad Paisley at the O2, London, 17th August 2011

American country musician Brad Paisley.
Image via Wikipedia

I was pleasantly surprised to see a tweet from Danny Baker (@Prodnose) on the day after Brad Paisley played the O2:

By Mr Apollo, I’ve never felt more alive! Last nights Brad Paisley/Darius Rucker concert at O2 best thing since Springsteen ’75.

I don’t know if I’d go that far, though not having been at the Hammersmith in ’75, and not having all that much experience of Big London Gigs, I’m not qualified to say; but it was a good night.

My daughters repeatedly questioned me about the nature of the “Special Guests” mentioned on the ticket. Support acts are not often worth discussing, and I played down the idea that the support might be special in any way so as to minimise disappointment, but the support act turned out to be none other than Darius Rucker, who has released two country albums of late, but was once better known as the lead singer of Hootie and the Blowfish.

I’ve got both of Mr Rucker’s recent albums, so this was good news indeed. He played a solid set of around 50 minutes, and the only spoiler was that a lot of the audience were not in their seats when his set began. We’ve been down this road before. At some London gigs these days people just won’t SHUT UP, and in any event spend the whole time going back and forth to the bar. I know I’m in a small minority here, and I know the venues encourage all this drinking, but I find the constant foot traffic distracting and rude beyond belief.

As for people who don’t sit down for the support act, more fool them. You never know who you’re going to see. Even The Beatles supported somebody once.

Everything seems to run very efficiently at the O2. I’d never been. We arrived via the Thames, which seemed a decent enough way to get there. We spent the day in London. I took my daughter to Denmark Street, where we learned that we’d missed Brad Paisley’s visit by a day (dammit!). We also narrowly missed him around the South Bank when we were making sure we knew where to catch the boat. He tweeted this photo of the Houses of Parliament around the time we were around there.

So the arena is a vast, ugly hangar, with an off-white roof. Lots of places to eat. We sat in Pizza Express, where my youngest got covered with beer when a tray of drinks went flying (some discount off bill), and then we went to watch the venue sl-o-w-ly fill. I had a dream a couple of weeks ago in which only 50 or so people turn up to this gig. Suffice it to say, there were more people than that, but there were a few empty seats.

I hate London venues and it takes something special to get me to stump up for one of these soulless arena gigs. Since top country stars so rarely visit (they have no need to as they can sell tickets all year round in the States), and even more rarely visit with a band, I felt obliged to go.

Darius Rucker was a bonus, but it was Mr Paisley we wanted to see. It’s clear the venue runs like clockwork, so I was frankly amazed that there were lots of people still unseated when Mr Paisley hit the stage and fired up “Mud on the Tyres”. Fucking hell! These tickets cost £40, including the booking fee, and still they’d rather sit in the bar.

Brad Paisley is one of those rare musicians who is both a talented singer and a superb instrumentalist. You have to understand that his songs are vehicles not just for the sentiment and humour that are the hallmarks of Country music, but also for proper back-porch style showing off of his extraordinary and inventive guitar playing.

It was an entertaining show. I didn’t like the acoustics of the venue (no change there: music fans have been short-changed in this respect since forever), but they weren’t bad enough to spoil his playing. The visuals behind the excellent backing band were more than a light show, but combined extracts from videos, animation, captioning, and more, which were tightly integrated with what was being played on stage.

Paisley also made the obligatory trip through the audience (playing the amazing solo for “Camouflage”) all the way, and sat at a smaller mini-stage near the back, which was a bonus for those people at that end who’d bothered to come in from the bar.

Mr Paisley is an attractive personality, and he complimented the audience for their genuinely broader knowledge of his material than he’s used to in the USA. He’s said in interviews that in his home country his audiences tend to only know the songs that get radio play, which is an interesting insight into the differences between the two countries. Over here, we get the albums, and that’s it. Good. Mr Paisley’s recent This is Country Music is as strong as any of his recent releases, including the excellent American Saturday Night from the year before. It’s fair to say that he’s a musician at the top of his game. Why let US commercial radio dictate what gets played.

Ronnie Wood made his obligatory appearance at the close of the gig. Out of his depth just a little bit, I think.

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1 thought on “The best since Springsteen ’75? Brad Paisley at the O2, London, 17th August 2011”

  1. I can understand the Americans knowing the radio songs more because of the sheer number of country radio stations. As we noticed whilst driving around Arizona and New Mexico; there’s no need to seek it out, just flip through the tuner.

    The stations were filled with Dierks Bentley/ twangy banjo/Miranda Lambert/Luke Bryan/Taylor Swift//Keith Urban and then inevitably a Brad Paisley duet about ‘makin out in a crowd and being told to get a room’.

    It felt very authentic on the backroads with that as the soundtrack.

    I saw Darius Rucker when at rather surreal Hootie gig in New Orleans a few years ago – and still have the alligator shirt.

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