Big voices, big songs define Tim McGraw-Faith Hill’s ‘Soul2Soul’ at The Venetian

You can take the boy (and girl) out of the arena but…

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s new version of "Soul2Soul" plays like a big arena concert that happens to be in a small theater. Is that any bad thing? Not if you are down there on the floor when they come walking past you in the aisle. It’s like everyone who tried to buy tickets for one of their arena shows got through in the first few minutes, and ended up in the first fourth of their local enormo-dome.

But if you had been led to believe these 10 weekends at The Venetian would be something really special and uniquely suited to the room? Like the shows Garth Brooks did at a neighboring casino?

Sorry, but this "Soul2Soul" is more business as usual. The two stars spend more time tag-teaming the stage for their solo numbers, with only a couple of "nice try" attempts to scale it all down to the unique environment of the elegant theater that last housed the Broadway "Phantom."

Maybe it’s just a difference in personalities, that elusive space between "singer" and "entertainer." Brooks is a born showman, one of those outsized personalities who loves to talk and can charm a room with only an acoustic guitar and a microphone.

These singing spouses are more of the "git r done" school. They have a lot of hits between them, a lot of ground to cover, and they work big.

Big voices. Hill’s "Piece of My Heart" grabs you by the lapels and shakes you every bit as hard as when it made us notice her in 1994.

Big stage, deep and industrial, framed in a giant glowing semi-circle like the set of a TV awards show.

Big songs. At one point in the middle of HiIl’s "Like We Never Loved At All," the music drops out to just piano and the effect is dramatic, because it’s the rare moments where we have heard anything but an eight-piece band playing full out.

You get the idea. They don’t do things small. And when they try, this cozy, chit-chat stuff seems foreign.

"We have not done this before, sat and talked to an audience," Hill even says as they take two seats in front of the curtain. At least they’re willing to give it a go, with a bit of debate on socks or no socks ("There is nothing right about that," she says of the latter) and a discussion of their musical influences: Tammy Wynette, Mavis Staples and Aretha Franklin for her; Ted Nugent, George Jones, Rush and Bruce Springsteen (who was said to be in the audience at this Saturday show) for him.

(This talk of first concerts and early influences was nearly verbatim in the kickoff press conference last August. Is this the rare case of a press conference giving birth to material that ended up in a show? Or, more likely, is this just a standard go-to place for them?)

The chair chat leads to McGraw giving us a nice "unplugged" breakdown of the Eagles’ "I Can’t Tell You Why" and a roadhouse country take on "Life in the Fast Lane." Then Hill digs into Aretha Franklin’s "Dr. Feelgood (Love is a Serious Business)" and she can take this sit-down, unplugged foolishness no more. By mid-song the curtain is up and the band is in full gear behind her.

Those who have seen past "Soul2Soul" tours will find most of what comes after the duo’s surprise entrance – working the aisles, shaking fan hands to the tune of "Let’s Go to Vegas" – agreeably familiar.

His songs have those right-on lyrics delivered with swamp rock or honky-tonk crunch. Both "The Cowboy in Me" and the song right after, "One of Those Nights," end in dueling electric-guitar flameouts. Hill’s songs are more about the drama and power of her voice: One sequence magically rid the stage of any visible musicians as she sang "Cry" in front of a giant, video-patterned spiral.

And occasionally the two would find themselves together, harmonizing to one another’s songs or sauntering toward each other for a climatic kiss on "It’s Your Love."

At the very end, they sat in facing chairs and grasped hands, separated only by a big, old-fashioned radio studio-type microphone, for a stunning version of "I Need You."

But just when they opened that door to what more of this show might have been, it was over. They did exit through the audience, walking up the aisle one more time on the way out. Their way of working a small room, I guess.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

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