Monday, August 14, 2000 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Tim McGraw serves up spice Faith Hill lacks

Special to The Seattle Times

Music review

Faith Hill and Tim McGraw, Tacoma Dome, Saturday.

Pop-country superstar diva Faith Hill almost has it all. A good voice, dazzling beauty, a loving, hunky husband, two young children, fame and fortune. What's more, her stable of writers now includes the pope, as she's among performers reciting his prayers on "World Voice 2000," available in stores next month.

But what she hasn't been blessed with so far is strong material, as was especially evident at her near-capacity Tacoma Dome show Saturday night. All the more so in comparison to the utterly right-on rock 'n' roll honky-tonk party thrown by her husband, country star Tim McGraw, in his own set.

Wearing tight magenta pants and a chartreuse halter, the lissome Hill looked great but lacked identity. Bouncy songs such as "Wild One," the power pop ballad "I Got My Baby," and the hymnlike "It Matters to Me" were all so much cotton candy. I understood better why the checkout clerk at my local grocery, seeing Hill on the cover of People magazine hours before the concert, confused her with Celine Dion.

Hill's rendition of Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart" was passionless. No wonder the fancy on-stage video screen compensated by showing blazing flames. "There Will Come a Day" opened with slamming hip-hop beats but quickly faded into tepid arena pop, while video of tough G-boys boppin' across catwalks played throughout. Huh?

Other tunes threatened to go country but quickly pulled back from the precipice; fiddle was used too sparingly but not integrated into songs. Cliched rock guitar and '80s synth-rock beats were abundant. Bright spots included the most country-flavored tunes, "Let's Go to Vegas" and "The Secret of Life," highlighted by skittering, almost surreal pedal steel guitar. The punchy girl-power number, "What's In It For Me," also succeeded.

McGraw's set was meaty, saucy barbecue to Hill's bland and airy rice cakes. While Hill never introduced her band and seemed to have no rapport with the hired hands, McGraw positively relished playing with his group, the estimable Dance Hall Doctors, a hearty troupe of country-rockin' animals who clearly loved what they were doing and whom they were doing it with.

McGraw's down-home themes weren't complex, but he knows how to paint a picture. He sang of courtin' at a county fair, raising a family in the country, traversing the New Mexico desert, drifting in Mexico, listening to George Strait and tailgating, and teens "trying not to go too far" in the back seat of a car.

McGraw and Hill teamed up for a middling five-song finale including the Stevie Nicks-Lindsay Buckingham divorce ode "Go Your Own Way." While they're quick to proclaim their marital bliss, McGraw benefits from his musical separation from Hill.

Copyright (c) 2000 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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