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Country couple deliver a lovefest

By GINA VIVINETTO

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 21, 2000


TAMPA -- Here's one for the strange finale files:

After three hours of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill proclaiming undying love for each other in song, through home movies shown on two gigantic video screens, and in giddy stage banter, the married country superstars ended their joint concert Wednesday night at the Ice Palace with a rendition of Fleetwood Mac's Go Your Own Way. Yes, the very song sparring lovers Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks used to spit at each other onstage.

But, surely things could never end like that for McGraw and Hill, Nashville's Beautiful People. Their Soul to Soul 2000 tour is a celebration of their bond. Of course, that's just what the more than 18,000 fans at Wednesday's sold-out show wanted.

Never mind that Hill, who is criticized along with Shania Twain for crossing over to pop, looked nothing like a country girl in skintight lavender slacks and chartreuse halter top. The effect was more like Malibu Barbie dressed for a night on the town. Hill's fans don't care; they roared when she hit those tricky notes with powerful oomph. Hill's rich voice has a slight tremolo, coupled with the pluck of Reba McEntire.

Unfortunately, in a live setting, Hill relies too much on that pluck, which is fine for some of her breezier ballads but makes heavier material come across limply.

For instance, why cover Piece of My Heart, one of rock's most gut-wrenching laments made famous by blues belter Janis Joplin, if you're going to siphon every ounce of angst from it? Hill's version is air-brushed, tepid and uninvolved.

Hill enjoys a warm rapport with her fans, who sang along to spunky songs of feminism such as What's In It For Me?, which the singer performed with sass. Tangy fiddle and slide guitar kept Let's Go to Vegas bouncy. Hill's energy never faltered as she danced around the stage.

Hubby McGraw's set was more artistically satisfying. The Louisiana-born crooner has a voice that wraps itself around a song's emotion. McGraw is not afraid to milk that on weepers like Don't Take The Girl.

Though he was clad in black with cowboy hat and -- briefly -- a leather jacket, McGraw resonated good guy-ness. That's largely because of his material. McGraw sings of love and nothing but. Good love, bad love, lost love, unrequited love. But he does it with flair.

The singer's eight-member backing band, including fiddle, slide guitar and banjo, fleshed out The Heart Don't Forget, the spirited Where the Green Grass Grows, and the tequila-soaked honky tonk stomper Living On Refried Dreams. The hit I Like It, I Love It inspired the crowd to dance.

McGraw, like his wife, chose to cover a 1970s rocker, Steve Miller's The Joker, with more success. The singer saucily strutted across the stage, bragging of being a joker, a smoker, a midnight toker, unleashing the song's rawness while shaking his much adored derriere.

-- To contact Gina Vivinetto, e-mail gina@sptimes.com.

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