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Review: Tim McGraw at Cruzan Amphitheatre

In addition to being a stellar country singer, Tim McGraw has also been blessed by the gift of being able to make good decisions. He strayed just far away enough from country by doing that duet with Nelly, he extended his brand adroitly with his acting roles in Friday Night Lights and The Blind Side and, yep, you can't argue with marrying Faith Hill.

And another decision from a couple of years ago is really paying off. McGraw says he used to knock back a few drinks before a show, and that habit grew to a few more. Perhaps too many more.

So he stopped.

And, meanwhile, he beat himself into ridiculously fit shape, with that FAITH tattoo dang near popping off of his right bicep. He needed all that oomph to hammer through a 27-song, 2-hour, 15-minute show on a sweaty July Friday night at Cruzan Amphitheater in West Palm Beach.

This says enough: McGraw was the cover boy of the July-August issue of Men's Health, which documented his workout routine, which mirrors CrossFit.

So that sleeveless black shirt clung to his frame as he opened with "One of Those Nights," "Red Rag Top," "Mexicoma" and borrowed Tracy's "Watermelon Crawl."

He didn't really have much to say until about seven songs in, when he greeted us with "I LOVE MY JOB, THANK YOU FOR COMING TO SEE US, MY NAME IS TIM AND I WANT TO SEE HOW LOUD YOU CAN GET, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN."

He also knows his strength is as a storyteller, telling Men's Health, "There are people who will never have a shot at a career but can sing circles around me. I know that."

It has been 20 years since McGraw, 47, hit it big with "Indian Outlaw," a song he made fresher Friday night with a percussive intro. His bread-and-butter songs, though, are nostalgia, with "Back When," "Southern Voice," "Where the Green Grass Grows" and his latest, "Meanwhile, Back at Mama's." They all pine for times of old, and they usually mean a hit for him. Whether that's a good thing or not might be worth pondering.

As usual, he closed with "Live Like You Were Dying," and maybe cynics could work in a line about the song's live-now message. I will not be one of them, though. Every time he sings it, I buy it.

The consequences, if you can call it that, of a headliner going more than two hours at Cruzan is that it shortens the opening performers. The shows start at 7 p.m. and music has to stop at 11. So that mean we got about five songs from Cassadee Pope, while Kip Moore gave us about 45 minutes, which seemed about right.

Moore said in a Sun-Sentinel interview that he doesn't see a large gulf between guys like himself who have had No. 1s, and headliners, other than his song book isn't as thick yet. I'd also add that he needs that No. 1 smash, like "Springsteen" catapulted Eric Church into a spot he deserves. Moore's latest, "Dirt Road," alas, won't be that song, although it's a meaningful and clearly shows he has the goods.

But his show was well-received, including his athletic dash from the stage through the aisles to sing to the lawn crowd at Cruzan. (That's why all those security guards had been standing in the aisle.)

He also made an impression on some of the females near my seat, who used adjectives such as "cute" and "beautiful." Not bad for a guy with unkempt hair soaked in sweat and a ballcap on backward.

Brad Paisley is the next country show at Cruzan, Aug. 16. Remember that you can bring unopened bottled water inside, and it's better if you keep it on ice until just before you head inside. Either that, or you'll need to brink a lot of beer.

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