From The Kansas City Star...
Among the trove of trophies and awards she has collected over the past five years, Carrie Underwood has two Entertainer of the Year awards from the Academy of Country Music. Saturday night, before a full house at the Sprint Center, she showed why.
Underwood has evolved with light speed into one of the biggest stars in modern country. Since she won the “American Idol” crown five years ago, She has done it with a combination of good looks, a charming and self-effacing personality, and a voice that has blossomed — exploded, actually — into one of those voices, the kind that can make an arena feel like a corner bar.
Saturday night she treated her 15,000 or so fans to an evening of hits and songs from her three studio albums; to an array of wardrobe changes; to several on-stage sets, including a swing to a cover of John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” delivered from the bed of a royal-blue pickup truck that rode a rail high above the crowd; and to just enough personal anecdotes and scrapbook photos (from her childhood to her wedding day) to spread a little homespun cheer.
The show lasted about 15 minutes short of two hours and included a couple of explosive moments.
One of those was the woman-spurned anthem “Before He Cheats,” one of the closers and the one song that prompted a loud, sustained sing-along.
The other was “Jesus Take the Wheel,” Underwood’s first No. 1 single. She turned that song of inspiration into an evangelical moment when she appended it with a verse and chorus from the hymn “How Great Thou Art,” a song she has covered. Among the several impressive vocal moments of the show, this one was the most spectacular. She finished the song with the kind of volume and skyscraping notes that recalled Whitney Houston’s national anthem at the Super Bowl almost 20 years ago. It inspired lots of fans to look heavenward and waive both arms and prompted one of the loudest and longest cheers of the night.
The rest of the show illustrated how Underwood became the chartbusting star she is. She has three multiplatinum albums and 10 No. 1 singles because she records songs that are as highly crafted as they are generic and formulaic. Some sound like spinoffs of other songs, including her own but also the songs of other singer/songwriters. The bluesy anthem “Undo It,” for example, is a remodeled version of Lucinda Williams’ “Joy.”
The effect of all that similarity and formula: She can raise the roof with her voice, but her songs don’t move much furniture. The vibe in the room only broke percolation one or two times; otherwise there was lots of watching followed by cheers and hearty applause after each song. The last time she was in town, she delivered an infernal cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Paradise City.” This night could have used a moment like that.
Nearly all of those songs take full advantage of that voice, which, like a high-performance engine, doesn’t like hanging around in low gear. So she came out of the gate in high-decibel mode with two anthems built to fill arenas: “Cowboy Casanova” and “Quitter,” both of which showcased an agile, leviathan voice that belies her petite stature and pleasant persona (like Martina McBride). Even when she sings a ballad, like “Wasted,” it tends to erupt into something loud and dramatic.
The crowd did light up for “What Can I Say,” which included openers Sons of Sylvia; for “I Told You So,” a duet with a video of Randy Travis; and for two of her biggest hits, “Last Name” and “Before He Cheats.” She ended with “Songs Like This,” a track from “Play On,” her latest record. She dropped in a sample of Beyonce’s “Single Ladies.” A few years ago, that would have come off as a moment of homage to someone Underwood obviously looks up to. But these days, she has a right to consider Beyonce one of her peers.
Billy Currington: He was the second of two openers, following the Sons of Sylvia, but he seems on the verge of becoming a big-venue headliner. Currington can do the beer-drinking, truck-driving, honky-tonk thing as well as anyone in country music, but he can also kill a country-politan ballad like “Must Be Doing Something Right,” which was on the setlist. So were “That’s How Country Boys Roll,” “I Got a Feeling,” “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer” and “Good Directions.”