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Story and Photos by Andy ArgyrakisCalling Tim McGraw simply a country star would be shortsighted, even if that's the genre where he primarily resides. Besides being a household name on his own, the instantly recognizable singer is also of half of a super couple with Faith Hill, who besides being married for what seems like forever, just wrapped up a concert residency together at the Venetian in Las Vegas. But even with those commitments, McGraw still found time to carve out a cavernous solo tour, this time putting the focus on "Two Lanes Of Freedom" (Big Machine Records), which is by far his most diverse collection to date.
The project comes on the heels of a highly publicized split with Curb Records and that behind the scenes emancipation has certainly opened the creative canvas for the two decade-spanning entertainer. Even with all the time that's passed since the 46-year-old first debuted, McGraw is still as popular as ever, jamming the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre on an unseasonably chilly night with a mix of lifers sporting previous tour t-shirts and those who just tipped into their teen years.
The first part of the 25 track evening packed in plenty of past favorites like "Where The Green Grass Grows," "Down On The Farm" and "Just To See You Smile," all forerunners in the modern country boom that had no trouble maintaining their sweet southern charm today. The bittersweet ballad "Everywhere" brought on the steel guitars in full force, while "Let It Go" served as a twang-tipped ode to leaving behind the negativity of the past.
Come the second half of the show, which turned the tides extensively towards more recent material, it was apparent McGraw has done just that. He channeled any previous contract frustrations into a myriad of unexpected explorations, spanning the Tex Mex meets Ben Folds Five-styled piano pounder "Mexicoma," the ethereal ballad "Friend Of A Friend" and the guitar-charged, Top 40 worthy "Highway Don't Care," featuring big screen guest appearances from duet partner Taylor Swift and guitar hero Kith Urban. Even Pitbull appeared in the same format to deliver a rap over the equally cross pollinated popper "Felt Good On My Lips."
In spite of all the fresh coats of paints to the formula, McGraw still acknowledged his roots throughout "Nashville Without You," an insanely clever history lesson that managed to tie together lyrics from a wealth of classics like "Ring Of Fire," "Stand By Your Man," "The Gambler," "Jolene," "Galveston" and dozens more. But if there was one a supreme message to take away from the night, it came in the initial closer "Live Like You Were Dying," a self-explanatory anthem that didn't just find McGraw talking the talk, but taking his own age-defying advice to heart.
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