Faith Hill, the onetime country thrush from tiny Star, Miss., is not only ready to join the Whitneys and Celines of the broader pop music world. On Saturday at the Greek Theatre, on her first headlining tour, she threw down a gauntlet at the Streisands too. A new ballad she offered from her next album had the hallmarks of a Broadway show stopper--and is about as far as imaginable from the catchy country-pop she launched her career with six years ago.
It was also one of the most stirring moments in a 75-minute show that rambled a bit musically, but demonstrated Hill's indisputable command of a stage. She opened with neck veins bulging and let up only for the briefest moments, working to please with the determination of a fitness guru: strutting, hopping, dancing, twirling, thrusting index fingers skyward repeatedly and chatting good-naturedly with fans at the edge of the stage.
She's clearly got the stage presence to make the jump from the medium-sized theaters on this tour to arenas and giant amphitheaters. Her show was an all-stops-out extravaganza, from the Vegas-showroom-like set to frequently dazzling lighting to the coordinated outfits of her seven-member band and two backup singers.
Yet for all the visual razzle-dazzle, emotional thrills were relatively few. As she sang in Gretchen Peters' "The Secret of Life," one of the few songs in her arsenal that lyrically and musically addresses life's little moments, one such secret is to "keep your eye on the ball." Her artistic gaze did wander with unnecessary carbon-copy versions of '70s hits by Rod Stewart and Elton John, but to her credit, Hill rarely struck out.
Preceding Hill with a far more modest, but generally more engaging 45-minute set, Nashville native Deana Carter made the most of her strengths as a writer and singer of fresh-scrubbed, colorfully detailed stories. Most have the sense of specific people and places that's all too rare in contemporary country. Her earthy sensuality and saucy vocal delivery went a long way, though not so far as to pull much real anguish or hurt out of the songs. So far, however, those seem to be enough.