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McGraw, Hill keep it fresh and relevant

Citizens Bank Arena, Ontario, Cal., July 22, 2017

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Tim McGraw singing his emotional "Live Like You Were Dying" has been the cathartic capstone of the country singer's concerts for over a decade now. This principle held true again during the latter part of McGraw's performance with wife Faith Hill during a stop on their Soul2Soul tour.

At one point while singing it, McGraw humbly squatted down on the stage, as if to say the song's power was far bigger than he. And he's right about that. However, the pulling of heartstrings is almost too strong now because "Live Like You Were Dying" follows directly after "Humble and Kind," McGraw's 2016 hit that contains equal strength to make the listener become emotional.

McGraw lets the audience sing parts of "Live Like You Were Dying," and it's a spiritual experience to sing these words with an arena full of music fans. "Humble and Kind" and "Live Like You Were Dying" signaled a sonic shift in the show's overall dynamic, which - up until this point - was a flashy, show-biz-y performance highlighted by big arrangements, movable overhead lights and piercing laser shots.

McGraw may be both humble and kind, but when he's standing opposite Hill, he's one half of a truly entertaining duo. The strength of this partnership was most in focus during their duet on "Speak to a Girl," which will ought to grow into one of those 'must do' selections in the couple's touring show.

Although this Soul2Soul tour can sometimes appear like a well-oiled Las Vegas show, it was fun whenever the unexpected happened. For example, when Hill walked stage right to sing part of "Wild One" for the audience at that end, she caught sight of a young girl passionately hugging her mom. To which Hill remarked, "Never stop hugging your mama like that!" Then after singing a vocal-only segment of Bruce Springsteen's "Glory Days" with his band, McGraw had the audience sing "Happy Birthday" to one of his band members.

Hill is one of the most stunningly beautiful women in country music. She can sometimes come off cold and untouchable in her videos or during award show performances. But live, the young girl in Hill many times comes out. She jumps around, a lot, and waves her hands in the air when performing. She clearly loves what's she's doing. In contrast, McGraw is far more cowboy cool.

Each artist also took long stretches to perform their solo hits. Hill had the audience bouncing along to "This Kiss," and then she simply nailed it on the ballad "Breathe." McGraw revealed his vulnerable side with "Angry All The Time" and performed a few songs that felt good on our lips, such as "I Like It, I Love It."

It was a gutsy move for Hill and McGraw to take Rhiannon Giddens on tour. It also invited the joke that there were likely more African-Americans represented by Giddens and her band, than in the mainly white audience. This was not just a country show, but one presented well outside urban Los Angeles. In other words, about as country as Southern California gets.

Giddens is not an up-and-coming mainstream country artist. Rather, she's more a left of the dial roots performer. And while it's likely many in the audience had no idea who Giddens is, the artist quickly won them over with her powerful singing voice. The voice of Carolina Chocolate Drops challenged the crowd with the traditional "We Could Fly" and then blew them away by giving Patsy Cline a run for her money with her cover of "She's Got You."

Hill and McGraw gave their audience plenty of country hits during this version of their Soul2Soul tour, along with a few new elements. By doing so, they've kept this unique partnership fresh and relevant, and well worth revisiting again.