Sunday, 24 hours before his RodeoHouston appearance, Tim McGraw walked the red carpet at the Academy Awards, where his The Blind Side co-star Sandra Bullock would come away with a Best Actress statue later in the evening. Not living in Hollywood, we don't know what happened after that, but Aftermath has never seen anyone perform at the rodeo with as much of a haggard, sideways Mac Davis-style slouch. McGraw spent the first song of the set, "Real Good Man," balancing himself on the revolving rodeo stage, running out onto the stationary runways when they came close. He looked shaky at times, but pulled it off even while wearing an odd, cartoonish country getup, complete with his trademark leather cowboy hat and circulation-constricting jeans. Around song three, McGraw made a victory lap around the inner arena, shaking hands with everyone he could touch at the rails while he continued singing and his band played 100 yards away. It was something to see, a sight more human than merely screeching to the blur of people in the seats about how wonderful they all look or challenging their loudness. "Just To See You Smile" came around the 400th handshake and/or dap in ten minutes.
"Still," the first single from this year's new Southern Voice, came without the album's peculiar AutoTune touches, but his voice started wavering again when he got back on the spinning platform. It's a decent song, looking back as your life nears middle age, something it seems like McGraw (now 42) has been talking about since 1994. It was as if he was wistful for things that hadn't even happened yet.
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"Everybody Hates Me" reminded us that he even knows that, with his dalliances in film, there are bound to come purists who don't dig on him double-dipping into the fame trough. He's still a likable artist two decades removed from "Indian Outlaw" and "Don't Take the Girl," and we can't bring ourselves to damn him for diversifying his portfolio. Compared to the paper tigers we have seen this past week at Reliant Stadium, he's still one of the more interesting pop-country singers around these days. At least McGraw has a back catalog full of hooks and emotional connections he can rest on. Taylor Swift didn't write a song about listening to Dierks Bentley or Rascal Flatts with her boyfriend, did she? The last 15 minutes brought a cover of George Strait's "You Look So Good In Love" to stop folks from hitting the aisles too early. He damn near pulled it off, except the voice issues came back and he relied on the crowd to fill in the straining gaps. "Live Like You Were Dying" and "The Cowboy In Me" closed out, McGraw already long gone before the latter song was even over. Maybe he needed a nap.