Country superstar Brad Paisley finally got to be the big man on campus last September when his marathon concert tour brought him back to his alma mater in Morgantown, W. Va.
Now available on DVD/ CD, Brad Paisley: Life Amplified World Tour—Live From WVU finds everyone’s favorite side-burned string-picker throwing a free late-summer soiree for 15,000 friends (and freshmen) outside the West Virginia University College of Law.
Directed by Daniel E. Catulo III—whose video CV includes titles by Dave Matthews Band, Rush, and Rage Against the Machine—Paisley’s hits-packed party was preserved for posterity by 20 strategically-placed cameras and mixed for 2.0 Stereo Sound (and 5.1 Surround) by exacting ear experts for those discerning digital archivists at Eagle Vision (and City Drive Films).
Catulo took his work personally: He attended WVU, too.
The result of his efforts is a quintessential, all-American concert film with blaring sound, blinding lights, colorful choreography, satellite stages and catwalks, pom-pom girls, and guest star—everything but the kitchen sink.
Clad in snug Levis and a blue-and-gold WVU jersey, Paisley assumes control with “Crushin’ It,” already tickling the strings of his “camo splash” Telecaster guitar as he strides into view. The 14-time Academy of Country Music award-winner shifts into high gear on “American Saturday Night,” “Water,” and “Online,” and makes the first of several guitar changes (to a “water blue” Tele) as Drama Kings fiddler Justin Williamson strains the bow.
“Welcome to the pep rally!” Paisley greets the campus crowd.
The fleet-fingered singer sails into calmer waters post “Perfect Storm” by rendering poignant “Letter to Me” in solo acoustic format, prompting souvenir-seeking spectators to bust out cellphones.
But where some artists shy away from Kodak moments and Polaroids (or frown on iPhone photography altogether), Paisley incorporates technology into his shows by mugging for shots—or even confiscating fans’ mobile devices (temporarily) to click a few pix himself.
“Should y’all be studying tonight?” asks Paisley, taking a whiff of the fragrant evening air.
“You’d think we were in Colorado!”
Following upbeat manifesto “This Is Country Music” (featuring the WVU cheerleading squad), Paisley autographs his guitar and gifts it to a boy sitting up front as Old Glory billows patriotically on big screen monitors. Brad welcomes supporting act Chris Young back out for bro-mantic duet “I’m Still a Guy,” then dials back his black Stratocaster for tender “She’s Everything.”
The band pays homage to country music mainstays Alabama with “Mountain Music / Old Alabama,” weaving in snippet or two of “Ticks” for good measure. Paisley salutes late folk legend John Denver with a heartfelt, stripped-down “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” but rips up “Beat This Summer” by plying a slide to the frets of his pink Tele as warm-weather images (roller-coasters, carousels) flicker onscreen.
Brad gets a nibble or two on “I’m Gonna Miss Her (The Fishing Song),” whose concomitant movie clip features fisheye views underwater. A waterskiing squirrel gets laughs on “River Bank” as Brad lets loose with more Van Halen-esque histrionics on a sparkle red guitar. Later, Glen Dale’s favorite son recognizes Olympic medalist Ginny Thrasher in the aisles, prompting chants of “USA! USA!”
Along with Williamson, Paisley’s impeccable backup unit consists of Kendal Marcy (keys), Ben Sesar (drums), Gary Hooker (guitar), Kenny Lewis (bass), and Randle Currie (pedal steel)—all of whom put added muscle into uproarious closers “Southern Comfort Zone” and “Mud on the Tires.”
Encore effort “Alcohol” sees the Wheelhouse wizard surrendering his last ounces of energy—and giving away the very hat on his head.
Given its “greatest-hits-live” vibe, Live From WVU makes a great Paisley primer for the uninitiated. Rock guitar enthusiasts afraid to venture to the country side of the fence would do well to check out the DVD if only to witness Paisley’s considerable fret board fireworks: The guy is a far more accomplished picker than most head-bangers.
Brad Paisley: Life Amplified—Live From WVU is available now at Amazon and other outlets.