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With help from Faith Hill, Tim McGraw shows his musical mettle

Fleet Center, Boston, April 1, 2003

By Jeffrey B. Remz

BOSTON - It wasn't a case of Faith Hill singing "Stand By Your Man." In fact, she actually was behind Tim McGraw, to his right, singing backing harmonies on the pretty Bruce Robison ballad "Angry All the Time."

And with the presence of Mrs. McGraw, dressed quite simply in jeans and a black top, McGraw's long sold-out show seemed to kick into high gear.

Prior to that, McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors, his long-time backing band, turned in a workmanlike performance, almost going by the numbers.

In other words, everything was pretty good really, but never quite seemed to go into overdrive.

McGraw started off well enough with "Comfort Me," the lead-off track from last fall's "Tim McGraw and the Dancehall Doctors" release, perhaps his best ever. McGraw sings "be free," while the Stars & Stripes were depicted on the two giant monitors overhead.

McGraw then launched into hits including "For A Little While," the current hit "She's My Kind of Rain" and "Where the Green Grass Grows."

He certainly has quite a catalogue of hits to his credit, and he did include most of them. But while not going through the motions, there was a certain lack of emotion.

Maybe that's part of McGraw's personality. After all, he is certainly a low key entertainer, especially given his star status. Almost totally devoid of ego, McGraw talked some, not a lot, joked around a bit (he twice made the reference to his last name and being appropriate for Boston where a lot of Irish people live). He's comfortable in jeans, cowboy boots, a shirt and a hat than some fancy outfit.

Ditto for the staging, which was on the simple side save a for a small monitor towards the rear of the stage. McGraw used it effectively to depict moods without resorting to overkill.

One problem is that if fans - and there were a lot in cowboy hats - were expecting to hear some country music, they barely got it for quite awhile. McGraw seemed to content to mine the rock side of his musical tastes. The sound was on the loud side. Yes, there was a fair amount of fiddle, but electric guitar predominated.

That all seemed to change and changed the momentum of the concert when he decided to take acoustic guitar in hand and sit on a stage extending into the crowd.

The move was effective in changing the pace, but all the moreso with the appearance of Hill out of nowhere. They sang quite well together on the heartfelt song.

That was it for Hill, but it galvanized the remainder of the 2-hour-25-minute show.

Well, except for two needless covers of Dr. Hook ("Sharing the Night Together") and Lionel Richie ("I'm Easy") immediately following "Angry." Why he picked two songs from the '70s instead of covering some country gems is hard to fathom. That may tell you more where McGraw's musical heart lies, however.

McGraw played more to his country side after that at least with songs like "Home" from the new disc (McGraw played a tremendous amount of the album, rightfully believing in it), "Down on the Farm" and a fine close to the regular set of "Cowboy in Me."

And, of course, "I Like It, I Love It," done in the encore, was a definite crowd pleaser, more on the rock side of country.

McGraw had one more surprise in store when during the closing "Tiny Dancer"' he started near the rear of the floor on a stool before a bunch of big security guards walked him through the crowd and back on stage.

McGraw has gotten better with age as a performer. It would be better if he stuck more to country than mediocre rock oriented songs, which he sometimes falls prey to.

While the adage of "behind every good man stands a woman" may have rung quite true with the appearance of Hill, McGraw certainly showed his musical mettle.

©Country Standard Time • Jeffrey B. Remz, editor & publisher •
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