MANSFIELD — Many arena artists, from all genres, would be wise to take some cues from Brad Paisley.
The genial country star took to the stage of the Xfinity Center Saturday night and, for a streamlined 100 minutes, upped the ante for what it means to combine song and spectacle into a rock solid show for a near sold-out crowd.
Paisley’s set mirrored the diversity of his catalog. He pinwheeled through songs laced with humor (the technology-targeting “Online,’’ done as a jaunty acoustic picker on a satellite stage in the audience), heart (the poignant true love ballad “Then” which drew cheers and tears) and a humane worldview (like “Southern Comfort Zone,” with its expansive sense of loving your backyard while being open to the world at large).
Whether trying out new tracks from his forthcoming album “Moonshine in the Trunk,” including the charging title tune, or playing old favorites like woozy encore “Alcohol,” Paisley was on his game.
Part of what makes Paisley so strong as a songwriter — the unplayed misstep of “Accidental Racist” aside — is his ability to be clever without being smug, earnest without being corny. He wisely applies both of those skills to his stagecraft, filling his shows with many fine details that enhance the songs in ways that flashy but meaningless stage smoke or pyro couldn’t.
It’s not just that he has mammoth state-of-the-art video screens — it’s what he fills them with.
A fantastical trip through the galaxy during “Southern Comfort Zone” ended with a Google Earth-like image of the Xfinity Center. At the close of ‘This Is Country Music” — in which he paid respect to elders and peers — he dropped to his knees and literally tipped his cap to an image of the late, great George Jones. A video accompanying “Celebrity” — with a man wearing a huge, theme park-like character Paisley head engaging in various tabloid-baiting misdeeds — played like a genius late-night viral video. Even when taking a selfie on a fan’s phone — a tedious new trend — he took it to a better place, gently ribbing the girl for having a Taylor Swift-Ed Sheeran screen saver at his show. He’s funny, folksy, and fan-focused in a way that feels genuine.
None of that would matter, of course, if he couldn’t play. But, boy, can Paisley play. Even when he and his backing sextet were better than the material, his nimble fretwork, assured croon, and their fiery playing elevated the mundane to great and the great to extraordinary.
Randy Houser, playing behind fellow openers Charlie Worsham and Leah Turner, got the crowd on its feet with hits such as “Runnin’ Outta Moonlight,’’ showed the richness of his voice with the wistful “Like a Cowboy,” and closed out with the brawny .38 Special meets AC/DC crunch of “Whistlin’ Dixie.”