Friends long before they became country superstars, Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw have paired for one of this summer’s top stadium draws, the Brothers of the Sun outing. The two last toured together in the early 2000s, and a decade later this country dream team still makes perfect sense: Both hat acts have just the right amount of good-natured swagger in their country rock to provide a perpetual no-worries atmosphere, but neither is above letting his sensitive side occasionally show.
Following openers Jake Owen and Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, McGraw took the stage while it was still light for his 100-minute set. Dressed in a sheer v-neck white T-shirt and impossibly tight white jeans, the laid-back, very tanned McGraw took a bit of time to warm up, transitioning from workmanlike to spirited about one-third through his 20-song set on new tune, the bouncy “Mexicoma.” From then on, as he ran through hit after hit, he engaged much more, often kneeling down to slap hands with the audience and grinning broadly. He easily switched gears from the driving, aspirational “How Bad Do You Want It” to clear crowd favorite and emotional high point, “Live Like You Were Dying.”
McGraw’s rugged voice was most impressive on his encore, which opened with an a cappella version of the unapologetic, yet wistful “The Cowboy In Me,” before concluding with new single, “Truck Yeah,” a sly novelty tune that had the audience fist pumping and singing along.
If McGraw’s style is more relaxed, Chesney hit the stage at 100 mph and increased the speed from there. In constant motion — whether twirling, running the vast expanse of his massive stage or soaring over the audience on a high-wired seat following his entrance — Chesney is the rare performer who seems both chill and in command at all times.
With sweat dripping off his bare biceps after just two songs, Chesney spent the better part of the next two hours doing everything possible to continuously connect, blending his hits with a spirited cover of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me,” and crowd favorite, the frequently performed “Blister In the Sun,” originally recorded by The Violent Femmes.
Right after Potter joined Chesney for their gorgeous 2010 hit, “You and Tequila,” Ashton Kutcher hopped on stage for the final verses of “Back Where I Come From.” The audience, spanning teens to baby boomers, enthusiastically reacted to his appealing hit-driven mix of sand-and-surf songs and tunes that embrace small-town nostalgia. Chesney seemed to hold back on some of the longer notes early on and his voice was often drowned out by his four guitarists (hey, McGraw had five), but his vocals got stronger as the night wore on.
McGraw returned for the encore, as the pair performed their recent duet, the high-octane “Feel Like A Rock Star.” They next revisited their roots, playing their breakthrough (and two of their worst) songs together — Chesney’s “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” and McGraw’s “Indian Outlaw” — in such giddy, slap-dash fashion that they felt unrehearsed even though the songs have been in the set for weeks.
Owen and Potter came back for a finale of Jackson Browne’s “Running On Empty,” also delivered in a rag-tag style. The show sputtered to an end as all four sweetly signed autographs for more than five minutes while the band continued to play the song until the quartet moseyed back up to the stage and said good night. The ending could definitely benefit from the laser-beam focus Chesney displayed the rest of the evening.