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

He came sashaying down an aisle at the back of the arena for a WWE-style arrival in 2011. He started his 2001 concert by popping out of an equipment case in the middle of the arena singing — of all things — Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," not the expected opening tune at a country concert.

On Saturday 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 on a massive video wall at the back of the stage. A few seconds later, amid fog, McGraw emerged from under the stage to deliver "Truck Yeah," underpinned with heavy metal guitar chords.

As he celebrates his 30th anniversary as a country hitmaker, McGraw was on all night like a porch light Saturday with his feel-good, booze-free, girl-dad country music. Like the 14,000 fans, he seemed in good spirits all night, which isn't 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, at times boot scootin' with one boot, doing an occasional spin, miming a slow dance on ballads, swaying here and there, and often bouncing to the beat, especially as he was belting about skydiving.

Another noteworthy change was the terrific video work, which wasn't apparent at McGraw's most recent gigs 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 featured close-ups of McGraw, clips from his music videos, nature landscapes, cuddly scenes with 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 first-rate Dancehall Doctors, McGraw offered songs from 13 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 tune with a heavy bottom sound about "I'm the only hell she's ever gonna raise."

With measured exuberance, the fist-pumping McGraw visited many of his hits, including the buoyant "Where the Green Grass Grows," the invigorating "I Like It, I Love It," the change of pace R&B ballad "Watch the Wind Blow By," the crowd-thrilling Taylor Swift (she was on the video screen) duet "Highway Don't Care," and encore theme songs "Humble and Kind" and "Live Like You Were Dying." And, oh yeah, he did "Tiny Dancer," showing his vocal prowess to the delight of the sold-out crowd.

Although McGraw said little other than mentioning that he leaves the talking to his wife and their three daughters, the Louisiana native did proudly hold up a fan's Naz Reid towel to salute the Timberwolves player from Louisiana State University.

Opening the concert were the encouraging Texas honky tonker Randall King and the increasingly impressive Kentucky country singer Carly Pearce.

Starting seven minutes before show time, King played a quick 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 a crucial niche as a woman you don't mess with. In song, she looked at wrong relationships from the viewpoints of cheating, indifference and loneliness. In her well-conceived 50-minute set, she smartly injected Wynonna Judd's "Why Not Me" and, in a nod to McGraw's wife, Hill's sprightly "Let's Go to Vegas." And Pearce previewed her upcoming fourth album with "Truck on Fire," a confrontational banger that didn't quite rock like Carrie Underwood.