Carrie Underwood turns it up in high-tech show

The show embraced crunching, in-your-face guitars and over-the-top grandiosity.
Carrie Underwood performs Thursday night at the Times Union Center.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
Carrie Underwood performs Thursday night at the Times Union Center.

“Back in Black” by Aussie rock band AC/DC blared from the arena sound system in a darkened Times Union Center on Thursday night just before Carrie Underwood made her dramatic entrance singing “Renegade Runaway.”

Dressed in a black and gold dress, the singer appeared out of nowhere atop a round three-tier stage rig that had just descended from the ceiling like a sleek black spaceship.

The blistering hard rock song by AC/DC might seem like an unusual choice for the singing star to use for her entrance, given that her music straddles the less confrontational genres of mainstream pop and country.

But it actually made sense as a fitting opening for a show that embraced crunching, in-your-face guitars and over-the-top grandiosity — especially at the start, which found the rebellious “Renegade Runaway” followed by party anthem “Last Name/Somethin’ Bad” and up-tempo kiss-off tunes “Undo It” and “Good Girl.”

Everything about the massive stage set with multiple hydraulic-powered platforms and the show’s carefully orchestrated choreography was a spectacle — albeit at times a distracting one.

The main platform holding Underwood’s black-clad, eight-piece band rotated while the singer traveled two catwalks extended out in opposite directions to interact with fans, as she did during “Undo It,” when she gladly grabbed a gift of a pink teddy bear from a fan.

On “Church Bells,” one of her darker-tinged tunes about a woman who poisons her abusive husband, Underwood took aggression out on a pair of steel drums, beating on them madly on stage. On the dance-floor kicker “Cowboy Casanova,” she stood on a giant jukebox that rose in the air as she lifted her arm to spark a volley of pyrotechnics.

And every few songs, Underwood would slip down through a trap door to change into a new outfit – whether a cream-colored Antebellum dress or a rocker’s black jeans and tee.

The complexity of the set was a risk, for sure. It was mind-boggling to think about the cost and effort required to lug such an elaborate, high-tech stage around the country for 11 months on this “Storyteller Tour” – especially on nights like this one where the arena was by no means sold out.

It was also a risk from an audience standpoint. Fans are typically used to having the performer face them from a static stage — not experience a certain percentage of the show looking at the singer’s back.

But the biggest cost of the elaborate stage set was a chance to experience the down-home charm of the “American Idol” alum, which was much more apparent during her previous Times Union Center concert in 2012.

Amidst the bombastic blur of flashy effects and calculated arena-rock that propelled songs like “Blown Away,” “Dirty Laundry” and “Choctaw County Affair,” we barely got to see Underwood’s more human side.

It finally came when she spoke to the crowd to introduce a slow-burning cover of her idol Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You,” and when she talked about the challenges of motherhood before “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted.” Both were highlights of the night, which finished with an encore of “Something in the Water.”

But before that, Underwood covered Alabama’s “Mountain Music” with the help of her openers Easton Corbin and the Swon Brothers — two acts who put on unfortunately forgettable sets. Corbin’s was bland, pretty-boy country and the Swon Brothers offered generic, emo-ish pop.

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