Renovated Vivint Arena kicks off with Tim McGraw and Faith Hill show — and the sound is still no bueno

(Michael Mangum | Special to The Tribune) Faith Hill and Tim McGraw perform Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

A $125 million renovation has certainly upgraded the cosmetics of Vivint Smart Home Arena, but what about the much-maligned acoustics?

Well, at Wednesday night’s Tim McGraw and Faith Hill “Soul2Soul” concert, the venue’s first big show since it reopened, it would be fair to note that undergoing a face-lift or liposuction won’t result in you suddenly having the voice of an angel.

Sorry to disappoint, audiophiles, but The Viv will not now headline your list of favorite concert halls.

Whether it was known as the Delta Center, EnergySolutions Arena, or Vivint, the venue has never been known for pristine sound quality, with late Utah Jazz owner Larry H. Miller said to have ordered the deliberate absence of any kind of concert-specific acoustic paneling in order to accentuate the fevered delirium of home basketball crowds.

However, in all fairness, some measures were taken in the reconstruction efforts to take the sound quality into account.

Kylie Drew, Vivint Arena’s event marketing manager, noted in a text that all the glass from the Level 6 corners, and more than 50 percent of the brick wall from Level 3 were removed, while portal doors were replaced with acoustic curtains and the old plastic seats with padded ones — all in a bid to eliminate reverb.

Nevertheless, when opener Cam took the stage at 7:40 p.m., the sound was pretty much the same as it’s ever been there — an echoey, muddled mess. Sitting two rows from the floor, vocals and music bled together into a sometimes indistinguishable mishmash. Sheer, booming volume crushed any hint of nuance for her half-hour.

It did improve, at times, with the headliners onstage.

The first couple of country music rose up via lifts, amid a stage-length video screen and enough laser beams to appease even Dr. Evil. Backed by a trio of electric guitarists, one acoustic six-stringer, a bassist, a drummer, a keyboardist, a fiddler, and two backing vocalists, together they tore through a set of familiar hits from both of their catalogs, including “I Like It, I Love It,” and “The Way You Love Me,” before performing mini individual sets, then ultimately reuniting for another handful of duets at the end.

When not singing simultaneously, their vocals were a bit cleaner, as on the sweetly dynamic “Like We Never Loved At All.” When their voices did overlap, though, as on the choruses of “Break First,” Hill’s power tended to drown out McGraw’s more subtle twang. And at every point along the way, the music was never completely crystal clear.

(Michael Mangum | Special to The Tribune) Faith Hill and Tim McGraw perform Wednesday, Sept. 27, at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

As for the arena’s overall ambience, sound excluded, it is a decided upgrade. Much of the claustrophobic clutter has been cleared out, making way for additional gathering spots and creating a much-needed sense of openness. The hanging lights strung between columns generated a charmingly cozy atmosphere. The portals, now set off by borders of blue paint and chrome accents, plus illuminated letters, are startlingly distinct. And there are TV monitors everywhere.

Two suggestions, however, if I may be so bold: First, don’t put the alcohol bracelet queue and the alcohol vending queue directly across from one another, as this leads to the very overcrowding you’ve worked so hard to avoid; and secondly, the upper level was markedly darker and drabber than the lower level and could stand a bit more brightening up.

So, with my inner Martha Stewart now placated, here’s the obviously oversimplified ultimate takeaway — it’s still an arena, and it still caters to arena acts. Big, bombastic acts. With any modicum of talent, they will have the ability to largely distract you from the venue’s audio shortcomings. McGraw and Hill drew a packed house, and it’s doubtful many — or any — of their fans left the building with the sound quality foremost on their minds.

Vivint Arena remains, then, perhaps not an ideal spot for “concerts,” but at least an improved one for “shows.” And yes, there is difference.

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