Tim McGraw brought his Emotional Traffic Tour to suburban Denver, Colorado on August 5, and everything was hunky-dory.
Of course, there's reason to emphasize hunk. This was The Manly Show on steroids, with McGraw and primary supporting stud Luke Bryan going the extra country mile to strut their stuff and make all the right moves.
Fist pumps, handshakes, flexed muscles, tight jeans and songs about drinkin' beer, huntin' deer and makin' love (not necessarily in that order) were enough to wow the near-capacity crowd (almost 17,000) at Comfort Dental Amphitheatre south of Denver.
The Emotional Traffic Tour comes to a stop after shows in Cleveland on August 12 and Washington, D.C. on August 13.
At least The Band Perry, with lead singer/guitarist Kimberly Perry (left), added a nice feminine touch as the polished opening act, but their sparse set was over in 24 minutes, with six songs including the double-platinum "If I Die Young." McGraw was gracious enough to bring them back during his set for "Can't Be Really Gone," and said this about the talented family group that also includes younger brothers Neil (mandolin, accordion, background vocals) and Reid (bass, background vocals):
"Every now and then ... when you're coming home from a gig, you're listening to the radio, you hear this great new sound and this great new band and immediately -- this is a true story -- you call your agent up and you say, 'I want to take these guys out on the road with me,' and they agree to do it."
Bryan, working the crowd while promoting his new album, Tailgates & Tanlines, which was released August 9, knew his job was to warm them up for McGraw. He and his smoking band accomplished that goal during a set that lasted almost an hour, with songs made more for drinking than thinking.
New album tracks included "Drunk on You" and "Country Girl (Shake It For Me)," while past crowd-pleasers such as "Drinkin' Beer And Wastin' Bullets," "Rain Is A Good Thing," "All My Friends Say" drew the requisite response. The ballcap-wearing Bryan (right), an energetic and extremely likable young guy with a bright smile, has the ability to appeal to the masses, but hopefully his material will become a little more personal and a lot less predictable.
He did deliver one of the more entertaining, off-the-cuff moments of the night during the second half of McGraw's set. Joining in for a duet of McGraw's "Back When," Bryan stumbled onstage and had a serious case of the giggles, taking a minute or two before gaining control.
"I'm not sure what's going on backstage," said McGraw, acting perplexed and tickled at the same time before getting Bryan back on track.
It was one of the few spontaneous experiences among a group of artists that ran through the paces like a well-oiled machine. While McGraw doesn't dance onstage (he likened Bryan's hip-thrusting to a Chippendale dancer's, remarking, "My mind won't even let me attempt to make that move"), the show has its share of choreography, including locomotive sound effects and an eye-catching video display that's a visual feast.
He had the audience in the palm of his hand from the get-go. The house lights went out to the sounds of The Who's "Eminence Front." After a few minutes, a spotlight captured McGraw in the middle of the venue, where he performed "Something Like That" and "Where the Green Grass Grows" before joining his formidable Dancehall Doctors touring band onstage.
From there, the charisma and energy spread as he made his way up and down and back and forth across the T-shaped runway with a built-in fan pit where guests pay a premium price for close-up glimpses -- and numerous chances for celebrity contact. Shaking more hands than a campaigning politician, McGraw (left) also has the gestures down pat, from the raised fist, the earnest glance, the outstretched arms, the chest tap.
McGraw is undeniably a master showman, his star wattage increasing through the years after a steady stream of No. 1 country hits followed by his marriage to Faith Hill, a slew of music awards and a growing reputation for his natural acting ability that led to appearances in such high-profile films as The Blind Side and Country Strong.
Lean and buff, wearing the trademark black cowboy hat, a tight, light-blue V-neck T-shirt and jeans with strategically placed tears, McGraw looks like a movie star and sounds like a rock star. He exhorts the crowd with Springsteen-like inflections -- "C'mon, Denver," "Don't stop! Don't stop!" and "Let me hear you scream!" As if they needed any encouragement.
The hits kept on coming during a set that lasted nearly two hours. The encores included: "Live Like You Were Dying," a tribute to his late father, former major league pitcher Tug McGraw; his first commercial -- and controversial -- success, "Indian Outlaw"; and the rip-roaring grand finale, "I Like It, I Love It."
Occasionally wandering in and out of tune during this virtual Great Hits parade, McGraw still delivered a powerful mix of old -- "Last Dollar (Fly Away)," "The Cowboy In Me" -- and new -- "Right Back At You" and "Better Than I Used To Be" from his yet-to-be-released next album. And he did so with passion, fury and constant reminders of his rural Louisiana upbringing.
While dodging some emotional traffic along the way, this Southern country boy has definitely become a self-made man with a plan.
Concert photos by Michael Bialas. See more of Tim McGraw, Luke Bryan and The Band Perry at the Comfort Dental Amphitheatre.