Are Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert the new Tim McGraw and Faith Hill? Like that superstar married couple, Shelton and Lambert are a pair of romantically involved (though not married) country singers mounting a co-headlining tour to appeal to their overlapping audiences. Tonight at the Star of the Desert Arena in Primm, they demonstrated that their concept of a seamless show, with the pair trading off mini-sets over the course of more than two hours, could be a success, as audience enthusiasm remained high whether Lambert or Shelton was the one front and center.
They were often there together, though; after Lambert's opening six-song set, and five from Shelton, the couple dismissed the backing musicians and sat together at the front of the stage, collaborating on Lambert's "More Like Her," Shelton's "Don't Make Me" and the classic Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty duet "Feelins'." Lambert and Shelton then did another six-song solo set each, followed by a free-for-all finale that saw both artists' full bands onstage. It was a unique set-up that took pains not to emphasize one singer over the other, and the crowd seemed to feel the same way. Even Shelton's legions of screaming female fans embraced Lambert warmly.
Shelton has a strong baritone and solid mainstream country chops just like Tim McGraw, but Lambert's only similarity to Faith Hill is that they're both blondes. Her portion of the show was clearly stronger, showcasing her raw, energetic songs backed by a band that was equal parts country and rock (would any other mainstream country star hire a mohawked dude to play three-string bass?). Lambert rallied the audience, prowled the stage, headbanged and even threw her guitar (to an offstage roadie, but still) during her solo closer "Kerosene." She covered The Band's "Up on Cripple Creek" and The Faces' "Stay With Me," demonstrating her kinship with barroom rock without coming off as false (the same couldn't be said for her run-through of "I Love Rock N' Roll" during the finale, yet another example of the lamentable trend of contemporary country acts doing straight-faced live versions of '80s-rock staples).
In contrast, Shelton was sturdy but forgettable; aside from a hoedown-tastic jam from his band during "Cotton Pickin' Time," his sets were as smooth and predictable as a flip through country radio. Together, though, the two often reached something special. Even after a goofy pop medley by one of Shelton's roadies and the aforementioned rote '80s covers, the show still managed to end on a high note, with a rollicking version of Charlie Daniels' "The South's Gonna Do It Again." Let's see Tim McGraw and Faith Hill top that.