When your opening song is "Green Grass Grows" and the closer is "Live Like You We're Dying," you can sandwich whatever else in the middle and still have one of those (special) nights.
For Tim McGraw, that stuff in the middle was mostly quality, and while there's a couple in there that'd you could argue felt soggy or flavorless, most fans left the Cruzan Amphitheatre in West Palm Beach plenty satiated from two hours of one of country music's more popular performers.
McGraw had the crowd in his hand even before he hit the stage, thanks to his entrance from the rear of outdoor amphitheater. Flanked by security men and bandmates, he slapped fans' hands as he walked between the sections, like a boxer headed to a championship fight.
The 1997 hit, "Where the Green Grass Grows" is McGraw at his best, singing about watching corn pop up in rows, and when the Louisianan proclaims "I'm from a map dot" it feel spot-on.
It was the fourth night of McGraw's "Two Lanes of Freedom Tour," and while there's no way it will replace the 2006 haul he and his wife, Faith Hill, gathered on their Soul2Soul II Tour (the highest grossing tour ever), it was certainly an energetic two hours. Maybe he gets a little spunkier when the wife isn't around?
While he has a stable full of songs prompted by other country topics -- Southern life, rivers, farms and such -- he's really at his best when he's singing about his feelings for his girl. ("Just to See You Smile," "I Like it, I Love it," etc.) There's always a sense of pursuit to those songs -- he doesn't quite have her -- and that vulnerability, rather than braggadocio, connects with people. Or, hell, maybe it's just a good riff and a good beat.
Much has been made of McGraw's recent dedication to buffness, and the three video screens, his sleeveless shirt and popping muscle definition clearly show that he's winning country music's arms race. Sorry, Kenny Chesney, you're down to No. 2 now.
His new album is called "Two Lanes of Freedom," so titled because he's outside of his old record contract and he's stopped drinking. Clearly, he's spent some time looking in the mirror, but conflict and pain often make music; a normal guy with a normal wife and regular job produces normal-regular songs.
His song "Mexicoma" from the new album drew a nice crowd reaction, but frankly I've heard enough about our neighbors to the south (Toby Keith's "Stays in Mexico" and Chesney's "Beer in Mexico" pretty much completed the category.) More palatable for me was the following song, "Nashville Without You," a nod to where he came from musically, referencing everyone from Hank Williams Jr. to Kenny Rogers to George Jones.
The showstopper, of course, is "Live Like You Were Dying." McGraw didn’t realize until he was 11 that the man who he thought was his father, Horace Smith, was not his biological father. He saw the name “Tug McGraw” when he ran across his birth certificate while rummaging the house for Christmas presents when he was 11. Originally, Tug McGraw, who pitched for the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies, denied Tim was his son for seven years. Tug McGraw died of brain cancer in 2004, and Tim dedicates this song to him.
Love and Theft got the night off to a good start, although unfortunately for them most of the fans were still in the parking lot quaffing down a cold beverage or two. Brantley Gilbert followed, and apparently his bellowing rocker style has some fans. Alas, I am not one of them.