Carrie Underwood is perfect for Vegas. That's not a knock - mostly.
Underwood is wholesome, engaging and dynamic. She's no Tina Turner, but she can strut onstage. Her voice is excellent - good range and control, on key and expressive. Maybe she oversells ballads like "I Know You Won't," but hey, Streisand does the same thing. And before a singer can oversell a song, they have to sell it first.
No problem there. But Underwood has a real edge to her, a fiery rock singer a la Chrissie Hynde or Joan Jett itching to tear up her All-American Girl image, or at least smudge it up a little. Wednesday night at Toyota Center, Aftermath saw just enough of that side of Underwood to make us want to see more.
But that's all we got - just a little. Maybe that's all she's comfortable with right now.
That's what we got at first. There was no loss of continuity between the musclebound hard rock of Underwood's intro music - Aftermath didn't recognize the song, but we're guessing Hinder, if for no other reason than they share Underwood's home state of Oklahoma - and opener "Cowboy Casanova." She didn't sing it like this, but Underwood's band played the single from her latest album Play On as a gritty, scorned PJ Harvey alt-blues diatribe.
A few songs later, "Some Hearts" coupled Tom Petty's stiff-upper-lip rock with Trisha Yearwood's feminine twang, and made Aftermath think how cool it would be if Underwood covered "Even the Losers." The subject matter isn't that different, let alone the lyrics: "Some hearts get lucky sometimes" versus "Even the losers get lucky sometimes." You be the judge.
But that was about it until the end of the set, when Underwood and the band brought back the big guns for the get-to-steppin' arena-pop of "Undo It" and electric-banjo-juiced "Last Name." In between were several Faith Hill-style weepers, the best of which was the admirably stoic "Someday When I Stop Loving You" (hint: it's not going to happen), and John Denver's "Take Me Home, Country Roads," which she sang from the bed of a blue custom pickup truck hoisted aloft over the agape Toyota Center crowd. Sweet truck, too. But who on earth would insure such a thing?
"All-American Girl" was an apple-cheeked apple-pie singalong, and Aftermath thought the lyrical hook of the up-tempo "Quitter" had a nice hint of ambiguity: "You made me feel like I never wanted to give you up/ Til now/ I've always been a quitter." Which side does "'til now" qualify? Your guess is as good as ours.
Several costume changes later, including a floor-length gown/work-shirt combo that brought to mind both Oklahoma and Cinderella - probably exactly what Underwood was aiming for - Underwood climbed out of the back of that pickup and began to sing her post-American Idol breakthrough hit, "Jesus Take the Wheel."
And just as Aftermath's eyes were starting to roll - sorry, it's a sweet song, but heavy-handed as hell - she switched over to a stunning version of "How Great Thou Art." Obviously, she had sung it in church once or twice - and just for a second, and then again on a moving "I Told You So" with Randy Travis live from the Ryman Auditorium on the video screen, Jesus really did take the wheel.
And in the encore, Underwood took it right back with a no-bullshit, tough-as-nails "Before He Cheats." Don't fuck with this All-American girl.
Personal Bias: Pretty personal, and too personal by half to share with the Internet. Suffice to say there was somewhere Aftermath would much rather have been Wednesday night than at Toyota Center, felt like we should have been, but we couldn't find anyone to cover it at the last minute. (It wasn't another show, either... occasionally we are able to have a life outside of music.) It wasn't Underwood's fault, and we didn't hold it against her.
The Crowd: A little like this. Not many dudes, but we did see one in a T-shirt that said "I'm not a gynecologist..." (front) "...but I'll take a look" (back).
Overheard In the Crowd: "Just pray for him to get a better job. Please."
Also: "Didn't she change costumes, like, five times last time?"
Random Notebook Dump (during "Wasted"): "These girls behind me are way too young to be singing about whiskey."