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Legal hassles aside, McGraw is at top of game

Comcast Center, Mansfield, Mass., July 24, 2011

Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz

Other recent concert reviews
Tim McGraw calls his current set of dates the "Emotional Traffic Tour." While that is the title of his hoped for next CD, McGraw's career is at a huge stalemate on the business end (McGraw and his label, Curb, are embroiled in dueling lawsuits), but perhaps that may have fueled his desire to overcome that major snafu on stage. McGraw was at the top of his game in an enthusiastic outing.

McGraw certainly has carved his own musical niche for a while now, and that carried through to the concert. He started the show in the middle of the outdoor shed enabling those in the lawn seats to feel a lot closer to the action than those in the front seats. A nice move by McGraw to quickly engage the fans and drive the energy level higher starting with Something Like That, Where the Green Grass Grows and Down on the Farm.

The show, in essence, was a greatest hits package, and he sure threw a lot of them in there, including (Last Dollar) Fly Away, Please Remember Me and a stellar The Cowboy In Me near the end of the regular set.

McGraw also played three songs from his "Emotional Traffic" CD with the crowd getting into his number one single, Felt Good on My Lips. Right Back at You had a dance vibe going and took a while to percolate, but eventually did.

He put a lot of faith in his backing band, the Dancehall Doctors, and with good reason. They've been with him for many years and recorded with them instead of using Nashville studio musicians. The Doctors filled the bill sound with fiddle, pedal steel, lead guitar, which actually has more of a steely, countryish sheen than the rock guitar theatrics of most country axe slingers these days.

A confident McGraw, who moved easily about the stage including spending a lot of time on the catwalk, breezed through the show in a scant 90 minutes. McGraw broke his foot a few weeks ago, but unless you saw the boot he was wearing or knew in advance, you would never have known McGraw had any problem.

The show was taut and never lagged, but McGraw could have easily fit more songs into the show, playing only the title track, for example, from the very fine "Southern Voice." There was no Still or It's a Business Doing Pleasure With You.

McGraw's career has progressed both commercially and artistically during his career. His singing has never been stronger or connected as much with the songs whether the serious (the first encore song, an excellent reading of Live Like You Were Dying) or the fun (the closing song of the night I Like It Love It). There was a confidence in his performance without overdoing it.

About the only thing that would make it better is if McGraw had an honest-to-goodness new release to push. McGraw and Curb may be at loggerheads, but that had zero affect on McGraw the entertainer.

Luke Bryan and The Band Perry preceded McGraw in a strong triple bill. While McGraw came off as being more traditional sounding these days (that's all relative as he rocked as well and has never been considered all that traditional), Bryan has few country roots. He dabbled in a bit of country, but he seemed more comfy being part of the southern rock or rock scene. Bryan got a healthy 55 minutes on stage, which was spent mainly playing his hits.

Bryan has been given to corny lyrics to say the least and covers them with engaging melodies. The result has been a bunch of good-time songs that get played on radio.

Bryan, however, saved the best for last with a rousing All My Friends Say. It's catchy ear candy, and Bryan did a good job. And it was quite odd to here all of a sudden turn the song into Metallica's Enter Sandman before switching back to his song, but in the context of what Bryan does, it worked.

Bryan was well received by the audience, but he ought to get beyond the geographic specific, topically light songs.

The Band Perry was more exciting than the trio's name (they are siblings) might indicate. Kimberly Perry handles the lead vocal chores, while brother Reid is on bass and Neil on mandolin and accordion.

In an ultra-short 25minutes, TBP got through 6 songs, 3 of them hits. That didn't leave a lot of room to really get into gear. Instead, they, like Bryan art times, came off as being a bit too rehearsed and sticking to the script.

Kimberly Perry sings ok and with energy, but one got the sense that she went to the School of Music Performing. They already have a career song with If I Die Young and a few other worthy songs, but one wondered whether a longer set would have benefitted them.