Talent and personality 

Tim and Faith in Soul2Soul II Tour at Alltel.


She’s got the big pipes and he’s got the big personality. Together, country pop’s reigning power couple, Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, are the ideal mix. In front of a nearly sold-out crowd of 13,301 on Friday night, the duo did not disappoint.

A unique in-the-round stage was made up of a two circular platforms located in the center of the arena, with the band and backup singers positioned on the lower level. Extending in all four directions from the circles were long catwalks, which led through the audience on the floor and right up to the seats on the sides — with fans seated on both sides and at the ends of the catwalks.

Hill appeared first, ascending from below the stage singing the mournful duet “Like We Never Loved at All.” McGraw soon rose up on the opposite side.

The pair disappeared for a moment as the arena echoed with calls to “follow the yellow brick road.” This was a somewhat baffling intro to Hill’s hour-long set, which opened with the spirited single “Mississippi Girl.” We can only assume, in some metaphorical fashion, the munchkin chants were meant to make us believe that she’s still a small-town girl, despite fame, fortune and a few million albums sold.

Hill’s stage presence was lacking, to say the least. She stood center stage, almost mannequin-like, rarely venturing down the catwalks. With little enthusiasm, she skipped around the stage — wearing a gray and black pantsuit and Pumas — to crowd favorites like “This Kiss” and “The Way You Love Me.” The adoring fans did not seem bothered, giving her huge ovations even when she launched into banter that sounded scripted and uncomfortable.

Taking a note from a girl in the audience, which read “Please sing ‘I Surrender All’ for Granny Betty,” Hill seemed slightly more at ease. She chatted with the fan — who was on her cell phone talking to Granny Betty — and learned that Granny Betty had been waiting on the line since the second song. Hill obliged and then proceeded to bring the house down with the bluesy “There Will Come a Day” and a harmony-rich version of the hymn “It is Well With My Soul,” featuring her backup vocalists and minimal accompaniment.

Vocally speaking, Hill was spot-on all night. What she lacked in charisma, she made up for with the rich, unforced scope of her singing. She ended her solo set with the monster hit “Breathe” and a sexy, swaggering take on Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart” that was atop the country charts in 1994.

The transition from Hill to McGraw was seamless. With no break between sets, the pair once again rose through the floor. Seated back to back, beneath a gauzy curtain, they sang the heart-wrenching ballad “Angry All the Time,” followed by “Let’s Make Love,” during which the two remained facing opposite directions for the duration of the song. Hill disappeared, turning the spotlight over to her husband.

While McGraw revealed only a fraction of his wife’s vocal firepower, he doubled the level of animation. Opening with “Real Good Man,” McGraw and his eight-member Dancehall Doctors band shifted between audience-friendly serenades like “Unbroken” and power ballads such as the 2004 smash “Live Like You Were Dying,” a life affirmation released after the death of his formerly more famous father, baseball player Tug McGraw.

McGraw poked fun at the fact that he doesn’t write his own songs, but said he was asked to come up with a tune for his next film, “Flicka,” based on the classic story of a girl and her horse, scheduled for release in October. With co-writer Tom Douglas, McGraw crafted “My Little Girl,” the first song he has ever written and recorded. He sang another original, “I’ve Got Friends That Do,” which is tacked onto his new “Greatest Hits, Vo. 2.”

The crowd remained on its feet for McGraw, singing the entire last verse to the tearjerker “Don’t Take the Girl” and joining in on hits “Where the Green Grass Grows” and “Just to See You Smile.” McGraw served it all with an easy, comfortable stage presence that made the audience members feel like old friends.

McGraw and Hill joined once again for an encore set of duets including a strange yet crowd-pleasing cover of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry,” with all the band members joining in. The husband and wife finally — after two-and-a-half hours — turned to face each other in the final encore. Sitting knee to knee on opposite sides of an old-time radio microphone, they harmonized close and sultry on “I Need You.” As the music faded and the lights went dim, the two shared a sweet, simple kiss.

— Erica Schaffer



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