Wednesday, March 26, 2003

McGraw's show about patriotism, '70s

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Note to Nashville hostesses: if you're throwing a dinner party, you probably don't want to seat Tim McGraw next to the Dixie Chicks.

Monday night at U.S. Bank Arena, country music's top hunk left no doubt where he stands on the Iraq war. He opened the show with his love song to America, "Comfort Me," and closed the main portion of his two-hour-20-minute show singing "The Cowboy in Me," as video screens played footage of soldiers going off to Iraq. His finished that finale with an American flag draped across his shoulders like a James Brown cape.

But other than a "God bless America," he didn't spend much time Monday talking about what his beliefs. Instead, he sang them, in songs filled with the classic country themes of mother and home ("Home") faithful love ("Don't Take the Girl"), general hell-raising ("Down on the Farm," "Real Good Man") and broken hearts ("Angry All the Time," "That's Why God Made Mexico," Red Ragtop").

Though he sang about Hank Williams in his song "Things Change" and David Allen Coe's "The Ride," McGraw is a country star more in the tradition of Garth Brooks, playing classic rock with country attitude.

His fascination with nostalgia at times made his "One Band Show" tour sound more like "That One Band's `70s Show."

Before he and his eight-man Dancehall Doctors even hit the stage, their pre-show warm-up music included Foreigner's "Feels Like the First Time" and Sugarloaf's "Green Eyed Lady." During his set, McGraw and keyboardist Jeff McMahon did an unplugged take on Dr. Hook's "Sharing the Night Together," then maxed the `70s vibe with Lionel Richie's "Easy" tossed in at the end.

Even his own hits weren't immune to that `70s mania, as McGraw's 1994 breakthrough,."Indian Outlaw," morphed into the Eagles' "Witchy Woman."

While those uptempo rockers kept his predominantly female crowd of more than 12,000 cheering and raising their fists, it was his slow, more countrified ballads that had them singing along.

But much of this tour - and the preceding album - is about McGraw bonding with his band. So guitarist Darran Smith got lots of good old-fashioned arena rock solos. And when McGraw returned to the stage for the first encore, it was Steve Miller's "The Joker," followed by some of his own favorites, including his relentlessly catchy "I Like It, I Love It."

After showing a video starring his three beautiful little daughters (and their mother, Faith Hill), McGraw reappeared at the rear of the coliseum floor, by the soundboard. There, he started his final encore, the song that closes his new, self-titled album, Elton John's "Tiny Dancer."

Even with Dean Brown's fiddle and Denny Hemingson's pedal steel, it was still about as country as "Stairway to Heaven." But it didn't matter to his adoring crowd, who happily sang along as McGraw strained to reach Elton's falsetto.

Hank sure didn't do it that way, but like the song says, "things change," and that's the state of country music in 2003.

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