CHICAGO -- The stage was smaller. The crowd was smaller. But somehow, every song got a whole lot bigger.
That was the case Tuesday night (Aug. 18) at Brad Paisley's special invitation-only show at Joe's Bar in Chicago. It could've just been the intimacy of the relatively tiny audience of about 1,000 that made his music go deeper and his jams longer. Or it could've been what wasn't at the concert: no video screens to fight for audience attention, no opening acts, no day-long drinkfests. Just Paisley, his seven-man band, the Drama Kings, and his music from his first decade of hit making.
He only had about 15 songs in his 90-minute set, so each one had plenty of room to breathe. On average, the song length felt extended by about two minutes on each one, giving Paisley time to really get his guitar god on with the help of his wide array of electric instruments.
From "Mud on the Tires" and "Wrapped Around" to "I'm Still a Guy" and "Online," he seemed to hit the songs that were on every fan's must-hear list. And the crowd fervor seemed to fuel Paisley's playing and his banter. At one point, he stopped the show to say he had an idea.
"We need to have an area exactly like this at every show, and we'll just bring you," he said as he gestured to the elbow-to-elbow general admission crowd pressed up against the stage. "You'll all get your own buses. Well, maybe we'll put eight to 10 people on a bus. And we'll do this every night."
He also brought up the fact that the one of the show's sponsors, Coors Light, was practically giving away beers with their 25-cent draft. "Oh, I see. You've all been drinking. Which makes our show sound so much better," he joked as he did the math that for $2 someone could've bought eight beers.
But the audience was sober enough to rise to the occasion and cheer for tunes from Paisley's new album, American Saturday Night, like his optimistic breakdown of social, political and technological progress ("Welcome to the Future") and his latest No. 1 love song ("Then"). Best, though, was his medley of songs about outdoor living with "Catch All the Fish," "I'm Gonna Miss Her (The Fishin' Song)" and "Water," the one where Paisley recommends you drive until the map turns blue and play truth or dare until you've got nothing on but water.
Maybe this kind of bar gig break from the big tour was just what he needed to get back in touch with the way things were when he was just getting started.
About a week ago, when Paisley was in Chicago for his regularly scheduled tour stop, there were 24,000 people there. And a few weeks before that, he played the White House for President Obama, the first family and a few friends. And now this. Not many entertainers could move so effortlessly between gigs so diverse. But watching Paisley onstage, it's obvious that the only common denominator he needs to make a show a show is his guitars, his band and some devoted fans to sing along.
View photos from Brad Paisley's show at Joe's Bar.