The sounds of fireworks that kicked off Carrie Underwood's Play On Tour at Jobing.com Arena in Glendale Sunday, Oct. 3, held the promise of a night filled with interesting sets, sparkling costumes and larger-than-life vocal acrobatics.
And the show delivered all three.
It's been five years since Underwood, 27, won "American Idol." Since then, the Grammy-award winning country sweetheart has released three platinum albums and 13 consecutive No. 1 singles on the Billboard country charts. She recently won Entertainer of the Year at the Academy of Country Music Awards, surpassed fellow "Idol" winner Kelly Clarkson in album sales and became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, country music's greatest institution.
In Glendale, Underwood played a set that included most of the songs from her latest release, "Play On," and a selection of her chart-topping singles from 2007's "Carnival Ride" and "Some Hearts," her 2005 debut.
The first song of Underwood's 90-minute plus performance was "Cowboy Casanova." As her eight-piece band began to play, the blonde beauty made her entrance on a red velvet couch that was lifted through the stage floor by hydraulics. She shimmered in a bejeweled coat and black leather pants, and sang into a microphone stand shaped like a walking cane.
"Casanova" was followed by "Quitter," "Wasted," and "I Know You Won't." During "Some Hearts," the final song in the first of four acts, Underwood donned a guitar. She was no Chet Atkins, but she could play. Who knew?
"Just a Dream," the "Carnival Ride" track that got Underwood a 2010 Grammy nod for Best Female Country Vocal Performance, started off the second, more subdued act.
Images of clouds opened to reveal a babbling country brook on the four floor-to-ceiling screens, and a large vine-covered branch with a wooden swing lowered from the ceiling. Underwood wore a white hoop skirt with yellow feather detail and a denim blouse --- an oddly beautiful combination of Southern Belle and farm hand.
Underwood sang most of "Just a Dream" while swinging above the stage. The fanciful set and wardrobe combined to make the lyrically depressing song about a young girl whose fiancé dies feel more like a song about love than of loss.
Before she played "Temporary Home," another tear-jerker, Underwood charmed the audience with a tale about her recent hike up Camelback Mountain.
"A while ago, we were on tour and passed through Arizona and decided to hike up Camelback," she said. "We liked it so much that we decided to do it again this time. That's where these weird tan lines came from. I have a nice red bib that you'll see later. Better make some room on your memory cards."
The third act was marked by high-energy performances, including the rowdy "Undo It," and soft serenades of songs such as "Jesus, Take the Wheel."
Underwood performed the first two songs of the segment, a rendition of John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," and "This Time," while standing in the bed of a blue pickup truck that was suspended high above the stage. The truck and Underwood made their way around a half-circle track that stretched nearly halfway across the arena- a stunt that revved up every fan in the arena.
"This is one of my favorite parts of the show," Underwood said during a pit stop between songs. "I feel like I can see everyone's faces."
Underwood was joined by the show-openers Sons of Sylvia for the final song of the third act, "What Can I Say," a collaboration from her "Play On" album. Ashley Clark, lead vocalist and fiddle player, sang with Underwood as brothers Adam and Austin played guitars on either side of the stage. Ashley had an impressive voice, but even the best have a hard time holding their own with Underwood.
Underwood entered the fourth act as she did the first - rising up from the stage. This time, instead of bright lights and thumping drums, the stage was dark as she belted out the hopeful lyrics of "Change."
Her ballroom dress began to sparkle, and then lights danced across her skirt. The outfit was a kind of screen, where images of white doves and rainbow lights started out and were transferred onto the larger screens behind the singer-songwriter.
After the song, Underwood explained that 36 cents of each ticket (a number she got from the first line of "Change") benefits the Save the Children organization.
"The littlest thing can make all the difference in the world," Underwood said. "You just being here tonight is making a big difference."
The last set included a heartfelt performance of "Mama's Song," a rendition of Underwood's Grand Ole Opry duet of "I Told You So" with Randy Travis (whose image played guitar and sang onscreen during a quasi-cameo), and an attitude-fueled performance of "Last Name."
Fun-loving country boy Billy Currington opened the show, taking the stage after Sons of Sylvia. Currington wore jeans, Converse and a grey V-neck T-shirt, and delighted the audience with performances of his No. 1 hits, including the endearing "Must Be Doin' Somethin' Right", the catchy "People Are Crazy" and the ode-to-beer song "Pretty Good at Drinkin' Beer."
1. Cowboy Casanova
4. I Know You Won't
5. Some Hearts
6. Just a Dream
7. Temporary Home
8. Someday When I Stop Loving You
9. All-American Girl
10. So Small
11. Country Roads
12. This Time
13. Undo It
14. Jesus Take the Wheel
15. How Great Thou Art
16. What Can I Say
18. I Told You So
19. Mama's Song
20. Last Name
Before He Cheats
Songs Like This