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Tim McGraw was on all night like a porch light at the Xcel Energy Center

Country superstar Tim McGraw has a habit of making surprise entrances at Xcel Energy Center.

He came barreling down an aisle at the back of the arena for a WWE-style arrival in 2011. He started his 2001 concert by jumping out of a suitcase in the middle of the arena and – most importantly – Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer to sing. ,” not the expected opening number of a country concert.

On Friday night in St. Paul, red and white lights flashed, the band roared and an unmistakable silhouette of a muscular man in a cowboy hat was projected onto a huge video wall at the back of the stage. A few seconds later, in the fog, McGraw emerged from under the stage to deliver “Truck Yeah,” backed by heavy metal guitar chords.

As he celebrates his 30th anniversary as a country hitmaker, McGraw was on all night Friday like a porch light with his feel-good, girl-dad country music. Like the 14,000 fans, he seemed cheerful all evening, which is not unusual for him.

What seemed different was McGraw’s willingness to dance, well, almost dance. Never a physical performer, the 56-year-old hunk in the tight jeans and muscle-hugging Henley shirt let the rhythm infect his body, sometimes scooting with one boot, occasionally doing a spin, mimicking a slow dance to ballads, here and there swaying, and often bouncing to the rhythm, especially while he was skydiving.

Another notable change was the stellar video work, which wasn’t evident during McGraw’s most recent appearances at the Minnesota State Fair and Twin Cities Summer Jam, where he didn’t use his full production. The huge curved screen behind the stage showed close-ups of McGraw, clips from his music videos, nature landscapes, cuddly scenes with his wife Faith Hill (including scenes from their TV miniseries “1883”) and at one point 11 simultaneous different live images. of his band members performing.

Backed by the top-notch Dancehall Doctors, McGraw offered songs from 11 of his 17 studio albums during the 100-minute concert. From last year’s “Standing Room Only,” he delivered the title track, a ballad about living an admirable life so the funeral is standing room only, and “One Bad Habit,” an up-tempo, bass-heavy tune over “I I am the only hell she will ever cause.”

With measured exuberance, the fist-pumping McGraw revisited many of his hits, including the upbeat “Where the Green Grass Grows,” the bracing “I Like I Love It,” the change-of-pace R&B ballad “Watch the Wind Blow By.” the crowd-pleasing Taylor Swift (she was on the video screen) duet “Highway Don’t Care” and the theme songs “Humble and Kind” and “Live Like You Were Dying.” And oh yeah, he performed “Tiny Dancer,” showcasing his vocal prowess, much to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

Though McGraw said little other than to say he’s leaving the conversation with his wife and their three daughters, the Louisiana native proudly held up a fan’s Naz Reid towel to salute the Timberwolves player from Louisiana State University.

The concert was opened by the encouraging Texas honky tonker Randall King and the increasingly impressive Kentucky country singer Carly Pearce.

Starting seven minutes before the show, King played a fast 15 minutes, accompanied only by a pedal steel guitarist, an acoustic guitar and his own acoustic guitar. He deserved a bigger band and more time.

The Grammy-winning Pearce, 33, has carved out a crucial niche as a woman you don’t mess with. In her songs she looked at wrong relationships from the point of view of deceit, indifference and loneliness. In her thoughtful 50-minute set, she cleverly injected Wynonna Judd’s “Why Not Me” and, with a nod to McGraw’s wife, Hill’s upbeat “Let’s Go to Vegas.” And Pearce previewed her upcoming fourth album with “Truck on Fire,” a confrontational banger that didn’t rock like Carrie Underwood.