(As published in the Times of Acadiana ... )
“Seventeen more minutes,” sighed a young lady in the row behind me in the Cajundome Sunday night as she counted the minutes ’til the beginning of the Tim McGraw-Faith Hill concert
And it occurred to me that the number seventeen seems to follow Tim McGraw around. (It’s apparently occurred to McGraw too: He’s prefacing his performances of “Seventeen” with a recording of the “When I was seventeen” verse from Sinatra’s “It Was a Very Good Year” these days.) But the hottest number that followed McGraw around Sunday night was his wife and the mother of his children, Faith Hill, about whose remarkable voice and way with an outfit more in a moment.
First, about the opening act, Phil Vassar: He was ASCAP’s “Country Songwriter of the Year” in 1999, and his own album--simply called Phil Vassar [Arista], the one he exhorted everyone to “buy ten or fifteen copies of”--contains the hit “Carlene,” one of the four songs he performed. He went over well considering that he had nothing but his voice and an electric piano to get over with. He would elicit his biggest cheer, however, near the end of McGraw’s set by bounding on-stage during “I Like It, I Love It” with a Bud Light for the singer.
That Vassar did not deliver beer to Hill goes a long way toward explaining how she can fit into the clothes that she wore during her part of the concert.
For starts there was the tight white tank top (that for purposes of political correctness should probably be called a “husband beater”) emblazoned with a pink Rorschach design to which the men in the audience seemed to be struggling to formulate a psychologically healthy response. Encasing her lower half were a pair of even tighter fluorescent-green jeans. Breathe is the name of her latest album, but how she can in apparel like that is hard to fathom.
Still, as her voice made clear--both live and in the Alltel ads that ran between sets on the video screens--she not only breathes but breathes properly, even going so far, it would seem, as to sing from her diaphragm.
Before the scrim went up on Hill and her nine-piece band, the sound system blasted En Vogue’s anti-racism anthem “Free Your Mind” to the ninety-nine-percent-white audience. But, though it was the evening’s only funk, it was far from the evening’s only good music.
Leading off with “This Kiss” (red confetti! dry-ice geysers!), Hill followed with “The Way You Love Me,” “Wild One,” “I Got My Baby,” “Secret of Life,” and “Let Me Let Go” before pausing to relate, as an introduction to “It Matters to Me,” that she began singing as a four-year-old in a little Mississippi church. “I didn’t have an instrument,” she said, “and I didn’t need one. I just sang from my heart. I sang as loud and hard as I could, and I still do today.”
She does. “What’s in It for Me,” “If My Heart Had Wings,” “Let’s Go to Vegas,” “Piece of My Heart,” “There Will Come a Day,” “Breathe” (with sexy video! or was it a mattress ad?)--then she was gone. Yes, the woman was as much fun to listen to as to look at.
We as a nation should really appreciate little Mississippi churches much more than we do.
Tim McGraw went over even bigger. To a crowd primed by repeated showings of his three Budweiser ads (the one starring his butt got the loudest screams of delight) and a techno-rave mix of “Indian Outlaw” (which, you know, is pretty much “Free Your Mind” in war paint, right?), he and his eight-man Dancehall Doctors Band delivered thirteen of the Man in the Black Hat’s greatest hits and some that will be.
Among the former: “Something like That,” “Where the Green Grass Grows” (with Joe-El Sonnier!), “Refried Dreams,” “Everywhere,” “Just to See You Smile,” “For a Little While,” “Down on the Farm,” “Some Things Never Change,” “All I Want Is a Life,” and “Don’t Take the Girl.” Among the latter: Steve Miller’s “The Joker” (with peach-squeezing hand motions!). Sometimes it was hard to hear for all the screaming girls, but people made the same complaint about the Beatles.
In the last part of the show (for which the Misses reappeared in a hot-pink gown), McGraw and Hill performed five duets, including “It’s Your Love,” “Let’s Make Love,” and a version of “Go Your Own Way” that found the Dancehall Doctors evoking rock-and-roll dreams that were anything but refried. Fleetwood Mac, Steve Miller--heck, I was ready for “Bohemian Rhapsody.”
But then the lights came up, the pre-recorded music came on, and it was off to the tour bus for the First Couple of Contemporary Country Music, leaving the rest of us with just one more vintage rock band to recall: Traffic.