If you could go back in time, about 21 years, and read the reviews of the first time that Tim McGraw and Faith Hill toured together, you’d find a long set list full of songs like “Down On The Farm,” “All I Want Is A Life,” “Refried Dreams,” “Can’t Be Really Gone,” “I Like It, I Love It,” “It Doesn’t Get Any Countrier Than This,” “Indian Outlaw,” “Don’t Take The Girl,” and “When She Wakes Up (And Finds Me Gone).”
But there aren’t many mentions of Hill.
That’s because in 1996, on that Spontaneous Combustion tour, Hill was McGraw’s opening act. Now, she’s his wife, his co-headliner and his everything. So their Chicago Soul2Soul show on Friday (Sept. 1) was more about the love they share than all the music they’ve made. The concert would need to be twice as long if they’d kept all of their hits on the set list.
But first, some background. Hill started her career singing background for songwriter Gary Burr at his Bluebird Café shows, and McGraw started his playing with his tiny band in Nashville’s Printers Alley. Then came the record deals and debut singles. Then came the 1994 CRS New Faces show. That’s where McGraw and Hill first met backstage, and when it came time for him to plan his 1996 tour, McGraw had his people call Hill’s people and then, well, spontaneous combustion.
That aptly named tour was where the two fell in love — they married in October of 1996 — but it was also where they learned to back each other up. And that’s what is still their M.O. on their Soul2Soul tour. So the Chicago tour stop — the second night of a two-night stand — wasn’t a McGraw show or a Hill show. It was more like a 25-song duet.
The couple opened the show collaboratively, with their cover of the 1987 Aretha Franklin and George Michael duet “I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me).” From there, the set list volleyed back and forth between McGraw’s songs and Hill’s, but they sang them all together. If he was on lead vocals, she was backing him up. And vice versa.
Sometimes, their duets were more 50/50. Like on Hill’s 2005 “Like We Never Loved At All,” McGraw’s “Shotgun Rider,” their current song “Speak to a Girl,” and even a few new ones, like “Break First” and “Telluride” (no relation to McGraw’s “Telluride” off his Set This Circus Down album).
Had this been more like 1996, where Hill did about four songs and McGraw did the rest, he could’ve had a set list about 20 songs long. But by sharing the stage the way they did on Friday night, they split the time down the middle. So fans coming to hear his hits from two consistent decades in country music might have missed the usual concert staples that didn’t make the cut, like “The Cowboy in Me,” “Everywhere,” “Red Rag Top,” “Down on the Farm,” “Just to See You Smile” and his breakout hit, “Indian Outlaw.”
By the end of the two-hour show, when McGraw and Hill closed with the 2007 hit “I Need You,” there was no denying that it can be a pleasure doing business with your spouse.
The tour continues through October, when it wraps on Oct. 27 in Brooklyn, New York.