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From the Country Standard Time Archives

Spontaneous combustion tour lives up to moniker

Rosemont Arena, Rosemont, Ill., May 30, 1996

By Brian Wahlert

ROSEMONT, IL - The Spontaneous Combustion tour, pairing Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, lived up to its name at the Rosemont Horizon.

Between Hill's scorching outfits and both artists' sizzling music, the show was two-and-a-half hours of scalding heat, but it really caught fire towards the end of McGraw's set when Hill came back on stage to perform a duet.

The artists' burning passion erased any doubts as to the truth of the rumors flying around Nashville about the two young superstars.

To focus on the duet would be to ignore the rest of the evening's great music, though, so let's backtrack to Hill's hour-long set.

She came out on stage wearing black Spandex leggings and a white top with her hair short and wild-looking, a bit like Lorrie Morgan when she was aiming more for the sultry look than the sophisticated.

She opened with her current single, "Someone Else's Dream" and went right into "Take Me As I Am," immediately proving that the power her voice displays on record is not the product of repeated overdubs and meticulous production, as is the case for some country stars.

Hill appeared much more comfortable on stage than during her last Chicago-area appearance with Brooks & Dunn two summers ago. She bantered with some of the men in the crowd, shooting back, "I love you, too. I love you more," in response to their amorous shouts.

During one song, she even picked out a 17-year-old guy from the front row and sang "Love Me" to him, holding his hands for almost the entire song. (Hill has started using the headset microphone popularized by Garth Brooks to allow her freer motion on stage.)

As good a stage presence as Hill has, better even than the night's headliner, in fact, sometimes the show intruded upon the music. For example, perhaps in an attempt to emulate one of her heroines, Reba McEntire, Hill has incorporated four or five costume changes into her stage show.

Although these brief breaks gave her band the chance to shine, most notably when her backup singer performed a decent rendition of "The Way You Do the Things You Do," most of the audience would probably have rather seen an hour straight of Hill herself.

Of course, Hill performed all of her hits and was generally pretty faithful to the original arrangements, with one exception right at the end of the set. "Piece of My Heart," which got a mild, jaunty, uptempo country treatment when she recorded it, opened with a pounding drum beat and turned into a midtempo, hard-rocking disco song. It was definitely the musical highlight of her show.

The encore, a rendition of the pop standard "Open Arms," complete with synthesizer, was a sappy disappointment, however. The worst part of it was the Mariah Carey-esque dedication to "you ... all of you," referring, of course, to the audience.

Besides that song, however, Hill put on an excellent show and has clearly developed into a headline-caliber act.

After a considerable amount of work by the stage crew, the lights dimmed for Tim McGraw, but before McGraw came out , the audience watched a high-speed documentary of the tour, somewhat reminiscent of a Garth Brooks special or Diamond Rio's music video for "This Romeo Ain't Got Julie Yet," set to a Van Halen song.

When the curtains finally opened, and "Running With the Devil" faded into McGraw's "Renegade," the star was at the top of a high-rise metal set that featured a huge disco ball and had band members sprawled about at various levels of the structure.

McGraw's show is a mixture of loud country-rock, loud uptempo country songs, and loud ballads with the guiding principle being, you guessed it, volume.

Sometimes, McGraw's band, the Dancehall Doctors, was so loud that the singer's thin voice could hardly be heard. That didn't stop the audience, which hardly ever sat down, from singing and dancing along all night long.

The show focused on material from McGraw's new album, including cuts like "You Got the Wrong Man" and "Maybe We Should Just Sleep on It," along with his impressive record of hits.

"Don't Take the Girl" was especially pretty as McGraw let the audience sing the entire third verse without accompaniment.

He even went back to his less successful first album for "Memory Lane," which was a nice surprise.

The biggest surprise of the evening, though, came during a song that McGraw introduced by dicussing his and the band's varied musical influences.

Then he invited Faith Hill back to the stage to sing a duet of The Tony Rich Project's current pop hit, "Nobody Knows."

As the song progressed, the artists moved closer together until her hand was on his stomach, and his fingers were caressing her cheek and chin. Then during an instrumental break, they danced across the stage, bodies pressed close together.

Of course, during the entire song, a close-up of the two artists was shown on the three huge screens at the sides and top of the stage, so the audience could clearly see the love in their eyes as they sang to each other.

At one point, they smiled these little smiles at each other that just grew and grew until it looked like Hill's face was about to explode with joy.

And the rumors about the kiss?

Well, they're true, too. Moments before the lights dimmed at the end of the song, McGraw practically attacked Hill with a huge kiss.

Hill definitely outsang and outperformed McGraw in the duet and for the evening as a whole.

As popular as he has become, McGraw still doesn't interact well with his audience, often talking too quickly to be understood, and he has never been one of the most vocally gifted male country stars.

His music is excellent party music, though, which was just what the rambunctious crowd wanted.

And when he came back onto the stage for his encore wearing a Michael Jordan jersey, the crowd exploded yet again. "Indian Outlaw," the closing song, was another smashing success, and the audience definitely came away satisfied.