Tim McGraw and Brantley Gilbert, Pittsburgh May 18, 2013
You’d think a concert featuring Brantley Gilbert and Tim McGraw would be awesome, right?
Not so much.
Their Pittsburgh stop wasn’t so much Two Lanes of Freedom, as the tour is billed, as it was one of those traffic jams in which you keep wanting to switch lanes because the other one is going faster than yours, except both are pretty much at a standstill.
Let me explain.
Brantley Gilbert is a young, muscular up-and-comer who puts on a live show in the good old boy tradition, with crowd-rousing songs about drinkin’ and fightin’ and women and guns.
Tim McGraw is an established superstar with a 20+ year career of monster hits behind him.
A t-shirt poll of the crowd confirmed that a large percentage of them were big fans, having shelled out $30 for his current tour shirt, huge flags and the like. McGraw shirts? hardly a one. In fact, I still don’t know what his tour shirt looks like because no-one was buying / wearing them.
Gilbert’s set was great, but far too short. Half an hour is not nearly enough time for a star in his own right to open a show, especially when he has such a long set list of hits. I have seen longer opening sets by third-string acts and American Idol runners-up.
McGraw’s set, on the other hand, was not just too long, but too weighted down with back catalogue twang and new songs with which the crowd was unfamiliar. Sure, he filled in with a predictable selection of the anthems without which folks would burn the place down, but as soon as he whipped the capacity (perhaps over-capacity) crowd to a full-voiced sing-along, he slapped us down with an unheard-of number.
What do people do when the tempo is messed with? They find other ways to entertain themselves. With a crowd of folks in the mood for Gilbert’s type of music, this means getting drunk-ass drunk and socializing. I use the word politely. What McGraw might not have picked up on while he sang along to the video screens, was that no-one was paying attention. No-one was singing along. The youts behind The Inky Jukebox decided the lawn was going to be a mosh pit.
The stage was also decidedly not fan-friendly. This is the first time The Inky Jukebox can remember that an aisle or cross of some kind did not project out into the crowd; instead, the bands were compressed onto a shallow stage which kept them at a considerable distance. At one point, McGraw delivered an entire song sitting on the lip of the stage while adoring female fans caressed his legs. I’m sure they paid a lot of money for the opportunity.
The whole sex-symbol angle, which once upon a time McGraw owned, felt tired and a tad cheap. The show was bloated with ballads and slow-tempo numbers, but the emotion that should have resonated from them — from him singing them, that is — was left to the video backs instead. This was especially true of his duet with Taylor Swift, which fell flat due to technical difficulty: the video wasn’t synched to her voice, and she was filmed in profile, never looking at the crowd. It’s not easy to incorporate an absent singer into a live show, but Jason Aldean did it well enough with Kelly Clarkson.
“Mexicoma” is an abysmal tune and sticks out like a sore thumb on McGraw’s new album. It should never be played at a concert.
This was also a show without McGraw’s old backing band, The Dancehall Doctors — and the new guys played like session musicians rather than a veteran arena band, willing and able to play with the audience, not just to them. Songs began and ended abruptly.
At the every end of the night, Brantley Gilbert reappeared on stage to sing a couple of “Truck Yeah’s” with McGraw for the show’s closer. What, Tim, you didn’t want him upstaging you for the whole song?