There should be a caveat though to someone dropping in from Mars and getting an intro to country music 2007. The music of McGraw and Hill on CD and in concert during their Soul2Soul 2007 tour, which stopped in Boston for the first of 2 shows, isn't exactly the same as those aforementioned standard bearers.
McGraw and Hill started curiously enough on a recent song they never recorded, "Chasing Cars" by Snow Patrol. They sang it well enough, but why start with that?
Hill took over the stage - this was a circular stage in the middle of the floor with four long catwalks in each direction - for 70 minutes, reprising a chunk of her hits, starting with her very first one, "Wild One," back in 1993 when she was doing far more country than pop where she seems more comfortable. Hill has a powerful set of vocal chords, though a number of the songs seemed to take a bit to find their groove.
Part of the reason could have been that Hill does not have a band along the lines of the finely tooled Dancehall Doctors, McGraw's longstanding backing band, which had a lot of musical chops to display.
Hill kicked into groove with "This Kiss," five songs into her set, where she let loose.
Hill could use a bit more abandon in her performing style. She does everything well enough, but she lacks the looseness of her husband. Eventually, she did so and to better effect.
Very few of her songs are country these days.
Which does not mean she didn't do a good job with them. "Mississippi Girl," her number one from "Fireflies," sounded solid and bouncy.
Not really taking a break," Hill and McGraw were back to back on chairs in the middle of the stage for Bruce Robison's very fine "Angry All the Time." The song was far more country than anything Hill performed, while McGraw sounded in excellent vocal form.
After singing "Like We Never Loved At All," an introductory short film to the couple featuring dolls was shown, but not particularly needed.
Sorta cute with the history of each traced, but most people already knew it, and it didn't really add to the show. And given that the concert started 45 minutes for reasons unknown, it was really not necessary on this evening.
Then it was McGraw's turn, again with a head scratching start, performing Steve Miller's "The Joker." It's not a case of whether McGraw can do it justice - he did - but why bother with a cover to start it off and a song that would never be associated with him?
McGraw rocks far more than he goes the traditional country root, but he does a good job with both. He sings with a healthy chunk of emotion and feeling, highlighting "Last Dollar *(Fly Away)" from his strong, new "Let It Go" disc early on. His material tends to be catchy without overdoing it.
McGraw mixed it up, thankfully not in high gear all the time, performing Ryan Adams' (another surprise song for McGraw, but he did have a hit with this) "When the Stars Go Blue."
McGraw turned in particularly strong versions of his huge hit, "Live Like You Were Dying" and the acoustic-based "The Cowboy in Me."
Unlike Hill, McGraw gave his band a good chunk of space to play and real estate as well. While Hill pretty much only let her backing singers on the stage with her band down below at the sides of the stage, McGraw's band moved around the stage numerous times throughout the evening. He certainly has developed as a performer over the years, having sufficient confidence to give his band some rope.
With a slew of hits dating back 13 years, McGraw, unfortunately, left out many favorites during his 95 minutes, such as "I Like It, I Love It," "Down on the Farm" and "Don't Take the Girl."
Surprisingly, the down to earth, easy going McGraw milked the applause a few times for some reason. The guy does not have a big ego, but there was no need to encourage more applause from the crowd - he would have gotten them anyway.
McGraw brought Hill back out towards the conclusion, ending quite well with the down home country "Shotgun Rider" with Hill on acoustic guitar and their superb duet "It's Your Love" before launching into the overly long, albeit energetic take on Bryan Adams' "It's Only Love" and a second, closing encore of the recent, tender hit, "I Need You." During this segment, Hill was most at home, comfortable and enjoying the moment, something McGraw seemed to do the entire night.
Hill has said that she thought the Soul2Soul would go on hiatus. Too bad because sparks did fly on numerous occasions, and it's something no one else is doing these days, even if not everything worked.
Local singer Lori McKenna opened with a good 30-minute set. She benefited incredibly from having the great fortune of Hill recording three of her songs on "Fireflies." That also apparently led to a recording contract with Warner and a second disc out in August.
McKenna is more of a rootsy, singer/songwriter type better suited to a small venue.
But the mother of five did justice to filling the arena with strong singing and solid backing instrumentation from guitarists Marc Erelli and Russell Chudnofsky.
McKenna received a gift horse from McGraw (he produced her new disc with his sidekick Byron Gallimore) and Hill and is trying to make the most of it.