CHICAGO -- They say the sign of a strong marriage is that you're just as good together as you are apart. If that's the case, Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are set for life.
That's how it felt Sunday night (April 30), when their Soul2Soul II tour closed a three-night stay in Chicago. Their 31-song set was a perfectly balanced mix of their hits, old and new. And a perfectly equal mix of solos and duets.
Six years ago, during their first Soul2Soul tour, Hill played the role of opening act for McGraw's show. This time, Hill held her own and showed the nearly sold-out crowd of 17,000 that she is every inch the superstar her husband is.
McGraw and Hill opened with "Like We Never Loved at All." When McGraw disappeared into the floor -- literally -- Hill took over the in-the-round stage with "Mississippi Girl" and five other tunes from her most recent CD, Fireflies. But there were plenty of classics to bring fans to their feet as the crowd sang along to "The Way You Love Me" and "This Kiss."
Because of the stage setup, almost everyone at the Allstate Arena felt like Hill was close enough to touch. The main stage was in the middle of the arena floor, and there were four catwalks coming off the stage to extend into the first tier of seats. The floor of the stage was made of glass tiles, with lighting underneath to underscore each song differently.
Hill shunned the usual uniform of female country artists -- tight jeans and stiletto boots -- and opted instead for loose pants, a sleeveless rugby shirt and black Pumas.
When Hill's hour-long set was finished and she'd curtsied to all the fans, McGraw joined her again on the center stage. The couple was enclosed in a cylinder of mosquito netting, where they sang "Angry All the Time" and "Let's Make Love." In an unlikely change of pace from their usual stare-into-each-other's-eyes duets, McGraw and Hill sat back to back for these two songs. Their vocals were stronger that way.
As soon as the netting came up, McGraw's love of the road came out. This is a man who harvests energy from his fans. His band, the Dancehall Doctors, were there to back him. But the crowd only had ears for McGraw. He started with some older hits like "Just to See You Smile" and "Don't Take the Girl." He joked that that was one of his first hits when he started 17 years ago -- when he was 12.
McGraw's set included "My Little Girl," a song he and friend Tom Douglas co-wrote for his recently-released Greatest Hits Vol. 2. When he got to the part in his set list where he sings "I've Got Friends That Do," he thanked the Warren Brothers for writing it and pointed up to the heavens when he sang, "And I may not know how it feels/To hang there on that cross to prove that love is real/But I've got friends that do."
McGraw's voice has come a long way since playing honky-tonks in Nashville's Printer's Alley. If he's lost some of the heavy twang and Southern drawl through the years, you can hear it in the live performances of his older hits. And when he's on to the new stuff, he manages to go up and down the vocal scale with conviction. While he played a little guitar at the concert during "The Cowboy in Me" and "Shotgun Rider," McGraw knows it's his voice that people come to hear.
Hill came back to the stage for an encore that included Bob Marley's "No Woman No Cry" and their own hit, "It's Your Love." McGraw and Hill finally faced each other for their last song "I Need You." After nearly three hours of watching them prove themselves as solo artists, it felt good to see them end the show in love.