Brad Paisley paused his song "I'm Still a Guy"on Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl to deliver a little speech on what he called "the feminization of the modern man."
The tune is a mock diatribe with scenery that felt pretty familiar even before its release in 2007: dudes walking little dogs, dudes getting facials, dudes holding purses at the mall. So here the media-savvy country singer was using current events to freshen up the sentiment.
"Soon, there'll be whole binders full of men," he said, paraphrasing Mitt Romney's now-infamous comment from last week's presidential debate. And then: "I'm Brad Paisley, and I approved this message."
Weeks before Election Day, political jokes are guaranteed to please a crowd (as indeed they did Saturday). But the campaign jargon especially suits Paisley, who's not just one of Nashville's biggest stars -- he's also its flip-flopper-in-chief, a beer-swilling knuckle-dragger known to morph into a purse-holding softie at the drop of a cowboy hat.
At the Bowl, he followed "I'm Still a Guy" with a bit of undiluted schmaltz called "She's Everything," and that's how it went throughout this slick two-hour show, the final North American date of Paisley's year-long Virtual Reality tour.
When he announced early on, "The rednecks have invaded Hollywood," you heard the warm Southern pride in his voice but also the cool insider irony of a part-time Angeleno. Paisley's red neck can sometimes appear awfully blue.
The key to this everything-to-everyone act, as with many successful politicians, is the commitment with which Paisley portrays each position.
A terrifically expressive singer who also plays tricky lead guitar and co-writes most of his own songs, he brought a convincing indecency to rowdy numbers such as "Alcohol" and "Ticks," in which he offers to inspect a fellow camper for those blood-sucking pests.
And in "Online" and "Celebrity," he analyzed the absurdity of life on Planet Hollywood with stinging precision. "Famous people are idiots," he said before the latter, adding for emphasis, "We are."
Yet Paisley was equally invested (and no less specific) in more earnest material such as "Then" and "Letter to Me" -- songs about family and responsibility that might've triggered a kind of autopilot response in another performer as smart as he is.
For "Letter to Me," he traveled through the crowd to a small stage halfway up the Bowl's incline, where he told fans in "the drinking section," as he described it, that growing up going to concerts in West Virginia he'd never gotten any closer than they were.
It was a just-folks moment compared to the flashy presentation he deployed a few songs later in "Remind Me," from last year's "This Is Country Music."
On record, it's a power-ballad duet with Carrie Underwood, and Saturday she showed up in a realistic-looking video projection that seemed to take in at least some of those in the drinking section. (Paisley performed another duet, "Whiskey Lullaby," with an actual human: Kimberly Perry of the Band Perry, which opened Saturday's show along with "American Idol" winner Scotty McCreery.)
The down-home stuff contrasted, too, with a handful of big-idea songs, including "Welcome to the Future," inspired in part by President Obama's election in 2008, and "Southern Comfort Zone," the first single from a new album due out next year.
That one addresses the way homesickness and wanderlust can co-exist, and at the Bowl, Paisley and his six-piece band played it at such a breakneck tempo -- several degrees faster than most country hits -- that you imagined he was trying to outrun something.
History? The paparazzi? A wife determined to wax his eyebrows? Depends what day you ask him.