Review: Vanessa Monaghan
Photos: Aidan McCarthy

Friday night, it’s a country music show so I decide to wear my blue jeans and check shirt to get in the vibe for Brad Paisley at The Olympia. As I get to the venue I remark that the street outside is extremely quiet. When I get into the venue I find out why, standing room is a valuable commodity. It’s just eight o’clock and the music is starting.

Brad Paisley’s opening act is the amazing Darius Rucker. Yes, he of Hootie and The Blowfish. A couple of years ago he went all country and was the first African American to win the best New Artist at the Country Music Awards. Since then his popularity has grown. On this performance he could have easily been headlining this show.

Although, his country music may not yet have a widespread fanbase in Ireland the audience was easily won over as Rucker played tracks from his albums. It’s a strange situation to be in, Rucker is such a seasoned performer, it seems effortless to him. He also brings a little edge to country music performance in general, his rock background allows him to throw off his guitar and roam the stage getting the audience pumped. His sound though is distinctly country, the Hank Williams Jr cover, ‘Family Tradition’ and ‘Southern State of Mind’ make sure of that. The quality of his tracks stand out as these album tracks easily stand shoulder to shoulder with ‘Won’t be like This for Long’, one of his five country number ones.

Rucker isn’t silly enough to abandon his past though and we get some ‘Hootie’ for good measure with ‘Hold My Hand’ and the immense ‘Only Wanna Be With You’ which has the auditorium in full voice. For an artist who has transferred themselves from one genre to another, this set is a lesson in how to do it. Rucker combines the new and old, acknowledges his past and embraces his current sound. What was to come next though was unexpected. To close his set, Rucker chose a cover. Champagne Supernova, yes it surprised me but every last person packed into the Olympia knew all the words and sang along in unison. Amazing set, great performance, I’d love to see Rucker headline.

After what seemed like a couple of moments interval, Brad Paisley comes to the stage to screams and rapturous applause, his distinct white cowboy hat makes sure he is the focus of attention on stage. He starts his set with ‘Mud on the tyres’.

I wasn’t quite sure what kind of audience a country gig like this would attract. There are limited outlets here for country and it’s eighteen years since Garth Brooks fever took our nation by storm. It was a mixed bag, from people in their twenties upwards. Many of those who were in attendance really got into the country mindset, roaming the venue with stetsons, jeans, check shirts and cowboy boots.

There’s no breaks between tracks as Paisley gets the audience going with ‘Ticks’. The band are on fire sounding as good live as on record and Paisley obviously has a penchant for eccentric guitars, first with an electric blue one then with a multicoloured. By the time he says ‘Hello Dublin’ he has the audience in the palm of his hand and they are a dedicated bunch, singing every word of every song as if their lives depended on it. ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Don’t Drink The Water’ get an airing as does the uber hit ‘American Saturday Night’.

Seeing as the ‘Hits’ compilation was released at the end of 2010, it’s not surprising to see Paisley delve into his back catalogue. He compliments the audience on their knowledge of this before testing them by introducing track one from his first album ‘Who Needs Pictures’ before playing track seven of ‘This is Country Music’, ‘Working on A Tan’ before playing the album title track. There’s lots here tonight for both the casual and dedicated fan.

We’ll forgive him for his really bad Irish accent and not understanding what ‘secondary’, the Irish equivalent of High School was as he introduced ‘Letter To Me’. A couple of solo acoustic tracks follow, before the tempo and frenzy is brought to dizzy heights with ‘Camouflage’.

It’s eleven fifteen as Brad Paisley returns to the stage for an encore. I walked into the venue at eight o’clock. The level of musicianship was second to none, Paisley taking centre stage but subtly allowing each member of his band to shine in their own right. Tonight we got nearly three and a half hours entertainment, great show, great value for money.