Sunday, July 31, 2011

Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan & The Band Perry’s Emotional Traffic Tour

Country Boys, Shake It For Me

You could tell that Tim McGraw was going to play to a capacity crowd in Pittsburgh on July 30, because the right lane of Route 22 was back up for a mile with concert-goers in pick-up trucks patiently edging along to take the Burgettstown exit.

It was a perfect night for a concert; not only because it was a Saturday — which as Luke Bryan noted meant that we could really party and not worry abut getting up for work in the morning (what about getting up for church, huh?) — but because it was one of those midsummer nights with a beautiful sunset taking the sizzling heat off the day, and a sky so clear it was as if all the stars in the heavens had been commandeered for stage lighting.

The Hype Doesn’t Lie

The 23,000-strong throng consisted, predictably, largely of ladies, given that this concert featured a band popular with girls, and two heartthrobs. The Band Perry, who exploded onto the scene last year, clearly understood that they owe their success to the song “If I Die Young” which the crowd sung along with enthusiastically.

A Little Frisky

Luke Bryan performed a satisfyingly long set that included all of his hits and demonstrated ably why his star too is on the rise. Last year’s ACM Top New Artist knows what performing is all about, deftly wiggling his ass not just during his set but in the evening’s high point, where his simulated sex moves brought the house down as he dueted on "Back When" with Tim McGraw.

He’s a handsome man, all lean muscle, built very much like McGraw, in fact, an attribute that can’t hurt. He also knows his fans and what they like, a short list of things that includes Girls, Hunting, and Beer. He’s a country man and sings about things country folk know — and at shows like this, where the venue is far enough outside town to attract a mainly rural audience —that goes a long way. What he also knows is that though his fan base is going to have a large female component, he can’t neglect the guys, so while the girls get the ass-wiggling, the dudes get AC/DC riffs from his axe-grinding guitarists, and an homage to metal, with Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” making an appearance, which, frankly, rocked.

 How Do You Do It? Something Like That

It’s not unusual nowadays for singers to venture out into the crowd to sing a few numbers for the up-close-and-personal touch. Brad Paisley did it to great effect last year, and so does Taylor Swift. But it tends to happen half-way through the show, so the band can take a break or hang back a bit. Not so Tim McGraw, who opened by singing two songs at a mic right among the folks who got decent, but not great, seats. (How d'you like 'em now?) While last year at the same venue he saved most of his giant hits (the ones he cannot leave off the set list) for the encore, this time around he kicked off with “Something Like That” which meant that he was almost drowned out by the crowd singing along.

McGraw and his long-time band The Dancehall Doctors don’t have too much truck with fancy stage sets, preferring to simply deliver songs, one after the other, all night long. Last night’s show was being broadcast live on Sirius satelite radio, and knowing that appeared to make the crowd do their best to be heard roaring their approval and singing along with an alarming gusto — so much so that McGraw often let the audience sing, and showed his admiration for our (admittedly superb) efforts with much non-verbal chest pumping and smiling, not something that you can see on radio, but which works great in person.

Despite this, McGraw was not in best shape; a recently broken foot prevented him from engaging on most of the hip-swaggering moves he usually makes, though not from gently covering the stage as he walked about. “Don’t feel sorry for me,” he told us. “Faith looks damn good in a nurse’s uniform.” One always wonders (hopes) that his wife, Faith Hill, will make a surprise appearance for one of their duets, but this year, as last, it was not to be. His voice also seemed rough for the first several songs (head cold? Pain medication? Old age?). Fortunately, McGraw’s voice warmed up as the show progressed, and he delivered a very fine rendition of The Commodores’ “Sail On,” which he recorded recently with Lionel Richie. He wasn’t sure the crowd would be old enough to remember it —he’s 44 — and they may not have been. The Inky Jukebox (who is the same age) sure does though.

The odd thing that marks the Emotional Traffic Tour is that McGraw does not have an album to promote. This is due to a contract dispute with his label, who has not released it. Nevertheless, he played several of the songs from it — all of which hinted at how great the unheard album is — throughout the night, clearly deeply irked that we cannot enjoy it beyond the live show. This is not the first time McGraw and his label have been at odds (he disowned the third Greatest Hits record – which contained no hits – and rightly so).

The Inky Jukebox appreciates that whoever drew up his set list took a look back at what he performed last year and chose different songs; after all, he’s going to be playing to people who faithfully come out every time he passes through. This time he dug deep, going all the way back to early in his career, and he has a long career from which to select songs. One thing he can’t really do differently though is save the best for last, and again, he did just that, the opening strains of “Live Like You Were Dying” humming in the dark as we awaited the encore. He delivered his signature song simply, giving it his all at the mic stand, seemingly aware that if the global audience listening in live were going to climb on his bandwagon, he ought to act like he was in the studio on this one. The Inky Jukebox wonders if all those folks listening in on their radios could hear us singing our hearts out to every word as if our lives depended on it.

Probably, yes. 


  1. Really fine! By the way where did you get that image?

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