According to Tim McGraw’s official Web site, President Bush prefers McGraw’s albums to those of the Dixie Chicks. While his opinion may be based on certain extra-musical criteria, there can be no doubt that McGraw returns the favor — his show at Staples Center bore a more than passing resemblance to White House politics. He spends nearly 2½ hours presenting himself as an “aw shucks,” regular guy populist, singing songs filled with references to Suburbans, fighter pilots, BBQs and home, and complaining about the “funny boys” in New York and L.A. who don’t get guys like him. But when the show’s over, a video camera follows McGraw backstage to a waiting white stretch limousine, quickly whisking him out of the arena. And the near sell-out aud –soon to walk to the parking lots to their nonchauffeured vehicles — applauds.
At times — when McGraw leans into the crowd, shaking hands and signing autographs –the scene recalls an old-time whistlestop rally. McGraw has the personal charisma to be a politician, and an easygoing tenor voice that’s remarkably sincere. Assuring the house he’s all business, armed with a local reference about the Lakers, McGraw responds to the crowd’s cheers with genuine gratitude. He thoughtfully includes videos showing him kissing babies (the fact they they’re all his children is a mere detail), and has the perfect first lady in his wife, Faith Hill, who joins him onstage to sing “Angry All the Time.”
McGraw could run on a platform that would carry even the most conservative district, but he doesn’t appear to have any political ambitions. He doesn’t want to be president of the United States; McGraw just wants to be a rock star — your garden variety, modest, God-fearing, family man rock star.
His current “One Band Show” is designed to let McGraw live out his rock dreams. He recorded his new, self-titled Curb album with his road band, the Dancehall Doctors (who receive equal billing on the tour), and jettisoned the parade of opening acts that usually precede country headliners, so he can deliver a marathon set from a stage that includes a video wall and runway. Wearing jeans, a Stetson and a tight, half-unbuttoned print shirt, he struts around like a deep-fried Mick Jagger; the runway and stairs leading to risers on the sides give him plenty of room to move and interact with a good portion of the crowd. When lead guitarist Darran Smith steps up to solo, you hear the influence not of Merle Travis or Speedy West but of Bon Jovi’s Richie Sambora and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry.
But more than anything else, McGraw looks toward ’70s AM radio. “Indian Outlaw” is extended with bits from the Eagles’ “Witchy Woman” and Paul Revere and the Raiders’ “Indian Reservation.” “Red Ragtop,” a rueful coming-of-age song about an aborted teen pregnancy (it’s innocuously vague; the song’s narrator doesn’t apologize for what happened, but admits, “I can’t remember who I was back then”) chugs along like vintage Loggins and Messina. And he covers Dr. Hook and the Medicine Show’s “Sharing the Night Together,” Steve Miller Band’s “The Joker” and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” — Artifacts of the Ford years spiffed up for a modern audience.