Review: Tim McGraw muscles his way into Charlotte

Five songs into his Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre show – the second stop on his just-launched “Two Lanes of Freedom Tour” – country-music star Tim McGraw introduced himself to the crowd, with bravado: “My name’s Tim, this is my band, and we’re gonna kick y’all’s (butt) tonight!”

Whether he delivered on his promise Friday night might be a matter of personal opinion, but my guess is that if he’d wanted to literally kick y’all’s (butt), he certainly could have.

Just look at those biceps. McGraw turned 46 this past week, yet he appears to be in his physical prime; freakishly fit, veins that would make a bloodmobile nurse salivate popping out of his arms.

Such stamina propelled him effortlessly through a 25-song set that lasted more than two hours and touched on nearly every chapter of his 20-year career.

Though it’s not officially summer yet, McGraw’s show unofficially kicked off the summer concert season at Verizon. Tailgaters showed up with cornhole boards, lawn chairs, even sofas … but overcast skies and cool breezes meant jeans and long sleeves grudgingly won out over short-shorts and skirts among the female-dominated crowd.

Opening acts Love and Theft and Brantley Gilbert were able to warm things up slightly as the sun went down. Then, shortly before 9, McGraw materialized to the rear of the pavilion section wearing a black leather cowboy hat, a black half-button-down shirt, and jeans, making his way to the stage while distributing high-fives under the watchful eye of his considerable security detail.

He selected 1998 hit “Where the Green Grass Grows” as the leadoff song. But initially, it was difficult to focus on anything but McGraw’s rippling guns, which he showed off by pumping his fists, pointing his fingers, beating his chest, showing off his wingspan, and – when all else failed – simply squeezing the mic real hard.

If you looked closely enough, even the Jesus fish tattoo inside his right arm (seen about 547 times over the course of the night) appeared to be impressed with his musculature.

McGraw (a.k.a. Mr. Faith Hill) made absolutely no reference, veiled or otherwise, to the lawsuit former label Curb Records filed against him earlier in the week and generally engaged in only superficial banter with the 17,000 or so fans on hand. Instead, he focused on the music. Sure, there were multiple elaborate video screens and laser lights, but he wasted no time Friday on wardrobe changes or filler.

Nearly one-third of the songs – including “All I Want Is a Life,” “Down on the Farm,” “Everywhere” and “Indian Outlaw” – were plucked from his ’90s catalogs. Another third of the selections came straight off his new “Two Lanes of Freedom” album; “Highway Don’t Care” garnered the biggest cheers (arguably because of video cameos by Taylor Swift and Keith Urban), while the raucous “Truck Yeah” closed out the encore.

My main problem with McGraw’s performance, though, is that it seemed to lack truly show-stopping moments.

It was nice to see him sit on the edge of the stage during “Just to See You Smile,” and it was cool that he let a couple of fans sing the song’s money line directly into his mic. I also felt the crowd electrify during “Felt Good on My Lips,” even if the excitement seemed partially due to a pre-recorded clip of Pitbull throwing down a rap verse.

But I never felt like the show reached a boiling point. It merely simmered. McGraw flexed his muscles. There were opportunities for a knockout punch. But it wasn’t quite the (butt)-kicking I was hoping for.