Tim McGraw and Faith Hill revealed more than their new Soul2Soul show Friday at a full Smoothie King Center in New Orleans. They revealed the sex of an audience member’s baby.
Thirty minutes into the tour's opening night, McGraw accepted an envelope from a guy who wanted to learn, in a very public way, whether he should be buying pink or blue blankets.
McGraw teased out the moment as he opened the envelope: “And the Oscar goes to…” Pause. “It says, ‘La-la Land.’ ”
Hill admonished her husband: “C’mon, tell us!” She finally made the declaration: “It’s a boy!”
“We revealed a baby’s gender,” McGraw continued. “Now THAT’S entertainment.”
So, too, was the first night of the couple's third Soul2Soul tour, their first since 2006. This incarnation played out against a smartly conceived and executed production as sharp as the cut of McGraw’s skinny slacks. (His trademark jeans were nowhere to be found, though his omnipresent black cowboy hat was in place.)
But like past Soul2Soul outings, this one depended on the couple’s interplay.
Both McGraw and Hill will turn 50 this year, and both look great. After 21 years of marriage, they still seem to not just love, but truly like, each other. It showed throughout the two dozen or so songs packed into the two hours and 15 minutes that one, the other, or both were onstage.
The shiny stage mimicked the tour's straight-line hourglass motif; in “Star Wars” terms, it looked like a head-on collision between two Star Destroyers. A huge LED screen dominated the backdrop, screening live shots and amorphous patterns; projections also appeared on translucent scrims that unscrolled from the rafters. Lasers and smoke were deployed at various points.
But the bells and whistles never overwhelmed the human element at the heart of the show.
The couple shared a long opening section with their guitar-heavy, 10-piece ensemble of musicians and singers. They swapped off lead and support roles on "Felt Good on My Lips," "The Lucky One," "I Like It, I Love It" and "The Way You Love Me."
After the baby reveal, McGraw ceded the stage to his wife. She and the band rocked "Free"; that energy carried over to a brawny "This Kiss." She dug into "Stronger," dropping to her knees. She worked hard and sang well, though Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" may not be the cover song best suited for her.
As McGraw would be the first to admit, she is the much stronger singer. He makes up for it with a forthright charisma, pounding his chest, stomping his foot, urging on cheers. He was pure country in "Shotgun Rider" and the bad boy of "Real Good Man," punched up by a brace of electric guitars. But just as quickly, he pivoted to "Humble and Kind," against a diverse spectrum of faces projected onto screens.
After “Live Like You Were Dying,” Hill rejoined him for “Speak to a Girl,” the first single from their forthcoming joint album. “Telluride,” another song from the album that turned up earlier, was an exuberant shot of country radio sunshine with a gospel chaser.
The regular set wrapped up with the ballad “It’s Your Love,” a 1997 song that felt as personal as ever. The couple savored it as family photos of their three daughters, taken at various ages, faded in and out.
Hill opened the encores with a walk around the arena floor during “Mississippi Girl.” McGraw then materialized in the bleacher seats with “Something Like That”; he, too, ran a gauntlet of high-fives back to the stage.
They disappeared and returned for the only obviously awkward segment of the night. McGraw had changed into fringed buckskin pants; Hill writhed in a form-fitting pantsuit as the stage belched smoke bathed in red light. Flanked by these fiery pits, they plunged into a menacing new song with a refrain of, "I hear the devil calling me back home ... she got my hands tied." It was big, dramatic moment that felt out of place. Afterward, the room quieted. Would the show's conclusion really be so anticlimactic?
Thankfully, it wasn’t. With Hill in a bronze-colored, floor-length robe and McGraw back in more sensible slacks, they rose up on a triangular platform, seated face to face, for "I Need You." Eyes locked, they sang, “I wanna wrap the moon around us and lay beside you skin on skin/Make love till the sun comes up, till the sun goes down again.”
It was like watching a renewal of their wedding vows, or a revisiting of their honeymoon. At the end, they held each other’s eyes for a long moment and kissed. Not a peck, but a deep, real kiss. It was almost too intimate to watch.
But such intimacy is why Soul2Soul worked so well yet again.