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From comic to tragic, Paisley displays range

The country music writer and singer rides into town with a No. 1 hit and shows his versatility.

Published August 7, 2006

TAMPA - If all he had going for him were his twang-tinged baritone and paisley-painted guitars, Brad Paisley would still be an opening act. But Saturday night, he showed a Ford Amphitheatre crowd why he has become one of country's hottest headliners.

Paisley played a mean guitar, tearing through the instrumentals on I'll Take You Back like a man possessed - or like "Eddie van Halen on cornbread," as Guitar One magazine put it last year when it made him the first country artist to grace its cover. Add to that the wicked sense of humor that makes his songwriting shine and a down-home stage presence that endears him to his audience.

His set, like his albums, was a showcase for Paisley's versatility, from the weeper Whiskey Lullaby, in which drinking leads to suicide, to the upbeat Alcohol in which it leads to lampshades on the head - including many creative versions in the crowd of about 10,000.

One of the best moments came with Little Moments, when Paisley closed his eyes and sang with heartfelt emotion about the simple moments of life.

The 33-year-old West Virginian's show used video clips, cartoons and photos extensively. Most notably, the spiritual When I Get Where I'm Going, sans Dolly Parton, featured images of some of those we miss, from Johnny Cash and Dale Earnhardt to Tampa Bay's own Jessica Lunsford.

Paisley, who got his first guitar at 8, came into Tampa riding a wave of success with his sixth No. 1 hit, The World, and has now sold more than 7-million albums. His "Time Well Wasted Tour," is this year's fifth-best draw on the country circuit, according to Pollstar, outflanked only by Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Kenny Chesney, Rascal Flatts and George Strait.

For opening acts, Paisley brought along two 20-something up-and-comers, who both showed their ability to recover from embarrassing intros. Danielle Peck had to leave the stage for several minutes when her microphone failed, but Eric Church had it worse. Radio announcer Cledus T. Judd introduced him as Dierks Bentley - apparently at Paisley's instigation - to a wildly cheering crowd.

Church managed to recover his swagger, wooing the country fans with an extended version of his rousing single How 'Bout You: "The scars on my knuckles match these scuffs on these cowboy boots."

Peck played to the women in the crowd with her funny, up-tempo Finding a Good Man, in which she sings about "the liars and the cheaters and the cold mistreaters." She even popped on the "magic" sunglasses from her music video, claiming they revealed which men in the audience were liars and cheaters.

[Last modified August 7, 2006, 05:11:18]

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