The bolo tie or the Members Only jacket? It was a toss up, Brad Paisley said.
It was just a self-deprecating remark about 15 songs into his set, when Paisley perched at the edge of the catwalk and sang "Letter to Me." He admitted he was a dork in high school, and had pictures on the video screens behind him to prove it, thus making Paisley's likability skyrocket like his hit country songs.
His humble demeanor and dead-on wit were evident -- in his lyrics and banter -- during the sold-out show on Friday at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre.
There were spots in the show where he broke from type to give the celebrity rock star thing a go, going into the audience to play a couple of songs in the midst of the chaos. For the remainder, though, he gave the crowd engaging and entertaining country music that felt like old-school traditionalism with newfound relevance.
Fishing songs are crucial to his appeal. New tunes "Catch All The Fish" and "Water" blended well with 2002's "I'm Gonna Miss Her," his ode to the tough call a man faces when asked to chose between a girl and the lake. Paisley chose the lake.
Last month, when Paisley performed for President Barack Obama and friends and family at the White House, he sang songs of love ("Then") and change ("Welcome To The Future"). Friday's show had some of that, but with a less politically correct crowd to answer to, Paisley could shine on his less politically correct songs, such as "Alcohol," "Online" and "Ticks."
Another country music guy's guy, Dierks Bentley, opened the show with a 10-song mix of high-energy chart toppers. But even in a moment of sparseness, when he shut the band down and played "My Last Name" on his acoustic guitar with guitarist Rod Janzen by his side, the older ballad came across as a monster hit for the roughly 24,000 fans singing along.