McGraw hones skill as showman

Calls the shots on Southern Voice tour

Tim McGraw (above) was preceded at Comcast Center by Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood, and Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum. Tim McGraw (above) was preceded at Comcast Center by Charles Kelley, Dave Haywood, and Hillary Scott of Lady Antebellum. (Matthew J. Lee/ Globe Staff)
By Stuart Munro
Globe Correspondent / July 19, 2010

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MANSFIELD — Midway through his show at Comcast Center Saturday night, Tim McGraw paused to give thanks. He noted that he’s now 43 years old, and has been making his living playing for 22 of those years. Music has given him a career, as well as bringing him his wife and three daughters. So McGraw thanked both music and those who have made possible what he has by buying his CDs and continuing to come out to his shows.

The sentiments certainly seemed genuine, and McGraw certainly has reason to give thanks. He’s not the best player in the world (after that expression of gratitude, he sat down by himself to play the first song he learned after buying his first guitar, Alabama’s “Feels So Right,’’ and followed with a jokingly self-deprecating evaluation of his guitar skills). And technically speaking, he’s not the greatest singer around, either.

But McGraw has worked hard to get to where he is, and to stay there. He’s steadily improved those skills, particularly his singing. He’s become much better as a showman, too. Over the past decade he has also taken control of and redefined his music.

All of that was evident Saturday during a 100-minute performance that seemed a bit scaled back from past tours, as well as being way too heavy on bass and drum.

His current dates are billed as the Southern Voice tour in support of his latest album of the same name, but McGraw only dipped into it for two songs, including the anthemic title track, which had the crowd of Yankees singing along to the song’s incoherent, laundry-list articulation of Southern pride.

For the rest, it was far from a hit parade. The singer made a couple of visits to his early career, including a steel- and fiddle-infused “Where the Green Grass Grows’’ and a cranked-up “Down on the Farm.’’ Along with a healthy sampling of recent hits, he threw in several offbeat choices — his wry appraisal of getting ahead, “Everybody Hates Me,’’ a spacey “Angel Boy,’’ and an acoustic take on “Blank Piece of Paper (with gorgeous guitar work and harmonies provided by McGraw’s longtime pals the Warren Brothers).

That recipe — defining the show according to his lights, while including enough of the hits to satisfy those who come to hear them and ensure that they will continue to come back — made it the latest iteration of a typical Tim McGraw show.

McGraw was preceded by the vocal-centric pop country of rising stars Lady Antebellum, who kicked off with “Stars Tonight,’’ an irresistibly hooky ode to going to a show like the one they were part of. By the time they’d torn through another nine songs, the crowd was thoroughly warmed up, and so they’d done their job. New kids on the block Love and Theft started the evening with a brief set that showed off that pop-country trio’s harmonies.

Tim McGraw

Concert photos

See photos of Tim McGraw and openers Lady Antebellum at the Comcast Center.

With Lady Antebellum and Love and Theft
At: Comcast Center,
Mansfield, Saturday