Concert review: Tim McGraw is old school with new tricks at First Niagara

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With a recording career now spanning over 20 years, Tim McGraw has been around long enough to be considered classic country. Well, classic contemporary country. Long before reality singing competitions provided the pipeline for new talent, artists like McGraw and Garth Brooks were bringing the genre into the mainstream.

At First Niagara Pavilion on Friday night, he pleased fans of many radio frequencies with 27 catchy numbers on the Sundown Heaven Town tour. The two hours was divided between some old favorites peppered within set of carefully targeted crossover numbers from last year’s “Two Lanes Of Freedom” and the upcoming “Sundown Heaven Town” (Sept.16).

Celebrating six years of sobriety, the perfectly chiseled Louisiana native took the stage in a dayglo tank and opened with “One Of Those Nights” in front of five synchronized LED screens.

The last album boasts three No. 1 hits while "Sundown" is riding on the megahit “Looking For That Girl.” The recent reshuffling of his band, The Dancehall Doctors, was expected to result in rifts and inconsistencies. However, when band leader and Pittsburgh native Denny Hemingson flexed the five piece’s muscles on the drinking anthem, “Mexicoma,” it was clear they hadn’t lost a step. With the use of autotune, talk box and duets with Taylor Swift and Keith Urban, McGraw, like the genre itself, is clearly moving in a more commercial direction.

He has one of the most devoted fan bases in music and the crowd gladly sang along unprompted to numerous choruses, especially oldies like “Real Good Man,” and “Red Ragtop.”

The show had some interesting moments. He pulled an adorable 8-year-old from the pit to perform “Meanwhile Back At Mama’s.” Later he muffed the chorus to “You Are So Beautiful,” explaining that he’s been at it over 25 years and simply messes up once in a while.

The multi-song encore closed with the powerful “Live Like you Were Dying.”

With his use of auto tune, flashy production and clearly commercial melodies, McGraw may have been around long enough to be considered classic country, but the new material shows he’s far from old school.

Bad Boy Kip Moore blurred the lines between rock and country with a full-throttle hour pumped up by hits like “Beer Money“ and “Somethin’ ‘Bout A Truck.”

Season Three “The Voice” winner Cassadee Pope simply blew up the pre-opener slot with a five song-set about teen angst from her No. 1 album, “Frame By Frame” that could probably been heard at the Robinson Mall.

Michael Rampa is a freelance writer.

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