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Tim & Faith a classic case of performance and personality over production

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Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s “Soul2Soul” at the Venetian on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.
Photo: Denise Truscello/WireImage/DeniseTruscello.net

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's 'Soul2Soul' at Venetian

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Soul2Soul" at the Venetian on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Soul2Soul" at the Venetian on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Soul2Soul" at the Venetian on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Soul2Soul" at the Venetian on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Soul2Soul" at the Venetian on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill's "Soul2Soul" at the Venetian on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2012.

These two are so cool. You know it. They know it.

Tim McGraw is the guy you want to head up the bachelor party in Vegas. He’s the one to call for the limo, cut the rope line at Tao and set up the VIP area and bottle service. You can imagine talking to a gal at the bar and explaining the reason you’re in this club: “I’m with Tim.”

It’s instant credibility.

If McGraw is the guy you want to hang out with, Faith Hill is the woman you wouldn’t risk approaching. I mean, are you kidding? Look at this woman. Too pretty. These two are so perfectly suited -- literally, ideally attired to be stars -- they can afford to perform what is otherwise a fairly conventional concert show on the Strip, Tim & Faith’s “Soul2Soul” performance at the Venetian Theater this weekend.

Tim & Faith are to spend 10 weekends performing in Vegas, a run ending April 26. They do not plan to become particularly immersed in our community. They show up, perform, bow and take off. They are to be appreciated from afar, even as they strive to get close inside the theater.

Tim & Faith’s Vegas debut was a performance hinging primarily on the quality of their songs, robust voices, searing eight-piece band and great backup singers. Atmospheric videos flashed from behind the stage, which was outfitted in a tubular fashion, with the artists performing inside curved, illuminated beams. The design gave the sensation that we were running through the rounded halls on the Death Star, or the sort of glowing set that works on TV for “American Idol,” “Dancing With the Stars” and “America’s Got Talent.”

Gone from the “Phantom” era are the paintings of fans in Victorian-styled period costumes that looked down on that production. Those areas have been painted black, but the rest of the ornate decor -- and that brilliant chandelier -- remain.

Any moments from the stars of the show that was customized for Vegas were small, not big. While Shania Twain soars into the Colosseum on a motorcycle shaped as a horse, Tim & Faith ambled down the aisles on foot at the start for “Let’s Go to Vegas.” To our immediate right, Hill sauntered toward the stage while shaking hands with jubilant fans (this would have been a good moment to ask a couple of questions, actually, as the audience Q+A later in the show was instead a few minutes of Hill and McGraw asking questions of themselves).

The high points were Hill’s lofty voice, especially her bracing rendition of “Breathe” and fiery take on “Take Another Piece of My Heart,” where (unlike some singers who have attempted to cover the Janis Joplin classic) she manages to sing rather than scream the song. McGraw owns a trademark look: The black leather cowboy hat set low over his eyes and fitted suit in either black or flat gray. You can appreciate McGraw’s color scheme even if you are color blind, and he never wastes movement while strutting around the stage. He’s the rare entertainer who could be recognized even by his silhouette.

McGraw’s “Live Like You’re Dying” and “Real Bad Boy, Real Good Man” were personal favorites. He was best during the take-it-down segment when his wife and he sat and talked of their favorite artists. Similar to how Garth Brooks spoke of his varied influences (which range from George Jones to KISS), McGraw mentioned Jones and Merle Haggard as his heroes. But he also name-checked Led Zeppelin, Rush (yes!) and the Eagles. Then he sang “I Can’t Tell You Why” and “Life in the Fast Lane,” and dang if it wasn’t sweet.

Even so, there were promises not delivered. Producer Robert Deaton talked of a big “wow” moment about an hour into the show, bringing to mind something that would make you go, “Wow!” Unless that talk was of the two wandering into the audience, or speaking to each other onstage informally, there seemed nothing particularly uncommon or groundbreaking about this production.

But Deaton also reminded of the couple's innate power to command a room, even a theater filled with 1,800 fans. That was the case, for sure, as the duo resonated a warm and entirely confident delivery of a tightly constructed set. The couple ended the show intimately, seated across a table, singing into each other’s eyes, with only a bedazzled, Alan Freed-style mic between them.

The song was “I Need You,” and it produced goose bumps. It’s great fun to watch them fawn over each other, and the crowd stood to roar its approval.

The two then walked, together, up the aisle and out of the theater. Maybe it wasn’t a departure as climactic as that of the Phantom, but wherever these two superstars were headed, they would be the center of attention. It is a rare quality afforded the greatest stars, and Tim & Faith own it.

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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