ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Their scrapes with police and their legal hassles behind them, it was business as usual for Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney Wednesday night (June 20) when they kicked off “Tim McGraw on Tour” at the Journal Pavilion here.
The swing through 40-plus cities follows McGraw’s highly successful outing last year with wife Faith Hill on their Soul 2 Soul Tour. He played Wednesday to what appeared to be a capacity audience at the 12,000-seat outdoor amphitheater. Judging from the screams of his fans and their unprompted chanting of nearly every lyric of every song, “Tim McGraw on Tour” definitely has the potential to match last year’s achievement.
Before Chesney’s appearance, opener Mark Collie warmed up the crowd with some originals and a few Johnny Cash tunes set to a powerful rock beat. Collie, who has played Cash in an independent film, looked a lot like a young Cash, dressed in a nearly all-black outfit, with slicked-down hair.
Chesney followed, goading on the crowd at every step, running from one side of the stage to the other, urging hand claps and performing brilliantly to a receptive and emphatic crowd. He played a few ballads like “Don’t Happen Twice” and “I Lost It,” but stuck mostly to high-energy numbers like “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and Conway Twitty’s “Love to Lay You Down.” He even found time to reference Jimmy Buffett in “How Forever Feels” and to cover Billy Joel’s “You May Be Right.” By the time Chesney finished, he’d definitely done his job as opener, priming the crowd for the big show.
Appearing out of nowhere, from within the crowd, McGraw opened his show a short time later with, of all songs, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” Surrounded by security, he slowly made his way to the stage as hundreds of fans clamored to touch this new country music hero. Once he reached the stage, the show kicked into high gear with a brilliantly bright and colorful light and video show that was more Las Vegas than downhome Dehli, La., the singer’s hometown. Behind McGraw’s seven-piece band, a larger-than-life video screen projected images the entire show, making McGraw appear like a giant before his thousands of adoring fans.
The Country Music Association’s reigning male vocalist of the year was in prime form and dressed to please the women in the audience. He wore snug, faded bluejeans, a signature cowboy hat and a tightly fitting, long-sleeve but see-through shirt — showing just enough to melt all the cowgirls’ hearts.
Pounding his chest and raising his arms high for the crowd, McGraw went through many of his now-classic songs including “Refried Dreams,” “Everywhere,” “Please Remember Me” and a very emotional and heart-wrenching “Don’t Take the Girl,” in which every lyric appeared on screen. By song’s end, not a single dry eye was left in the house. Though many of McGraw’s songs were played medley-style, he managed to fit in nearly every tune that a McGraw fan might want to hear.
It was evident that everyone in the crowd hoped to see or at least catch a stage-left glimpse of McGraw’s devoted wife, Hill, said to be with him on tour despite her recent pregnancy with the couple’s third child. It was not to be. Nor did McGraw spend much time speaking to the audience, save for the usual “How are we doing tonight Albuquerque?” Most of McGraw’s time was spent rifling through as many songs as he could cram into his 90-minute set.
McGraw also introduced a few new songs from his latest album, Set This Circus Down, No. 1 on the Billboard country album chart for six consecutive weeks before yielding this week to Trisha Yearwood . “Telluride” was a sweeping, anthem-like tune about the Colorado mountain town. A great little song called “Things Change,” accompanied by vintage black-and-white images of Hank Williams , Elvis, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Willie Nelson and many others, left the crowd cheering. The photos were surrounded by color graphics that simulated fire, and by quotes like, “Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change.” Another highlight was a Mark Collie-penned tune, “Forget About Us” that sounded vaguely like early Bruce Springsteen.
As for the encores, McGraw saved the best for last, playing the raucous, crowd-pleasing singalong, “I Like It, I Love It,” “The Cowboy in Me” and “Where the Green Grass Grows.” The latter was a crowd favorite. The finale proved Faith-less, but Chesney did ramble back onstage to perform “Good Ol’ Boys” with McGraw, a fitting end for the pair in light of all they’ve been through since their tangle with police in Buffalo just over a year ago.
McGraw and Chesney move to Phoenix Thursday night (June 21). “Tim McGraw on Tour” wraps up Aug. 25 in Nashville.