“It’s good to be home,” Carrie Underwood told the crowd at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena Friday evening (Sept. 27). “It felt so weird waking up in my own bed and now I’m playing at the Bridgestone. This is kind of my second home.”
Indeed, Underwood and her openers Maddie & Tae (“Die From A Broken Heart”) and Runaway June (with the Top 5 hit, “Buy My Own Drinks”) have been busy criss-crossing the country on Underwood’s current The Cry Pretty Tour 360 for the better part of the year, before bringing it back to Nashville. The 360-degree, in-the-round show was completely sold out Friday evening. The second leg of the tour concludes Oct. 31 in Detroit.
The Bridgestone was buzzing with anticipation by the time headliner Underwood took the stage, and she came ready to party, launching into the summery “Southbound” from her latest album Cry Pretty, her first at her new label home UMG Nashville. The in-the-round stage was shaped like an eye, both as a nod her album, and to allow for as many people as possible in the stands and in the pit in the center of the stage. Throughout the evening, images were projected onto 17 filmy screens that hung above the stage.
The high-energy show, propelled by Underwood’s breathtaking, powerhouse voice, continued with “Cowboy Casanova” and “Good Girl.” The stage was trimmed in technicolor teals, oranges, and purples, as Underwood shifted back to her current album material for “Backsliding,” her crystalline voice accented by seat-shaking bass.
“I first came to Nashville at [age] 10, and I thought, ‘Nashville is the coolest thing in the world and I want to live there.’ There was an open door and I walked through it,” Underwood said, referencing her win on American Idol nearly 15 years ago.
“If there is something you are holding onto that seems like it’s too big a dream, I’m living proof that things can happen and you can end up doing what you’ve always dreamed of.”
Though the power and range of Underwood’s sterling voice is well-known after seven Grammy wins and numerous No. 1 hits, her Cry Pretty album, and the corresponding tour, find her relishing the different shades and timbres she can summon.
Seated on a dark red velvet couch, donning a black hat and clutching a classic Sinatra-esque mic, Underwood was at her most sultry on the jazz-infused, smoky tune “Drinking Alone,” which offers an alluring alternative to trying to solve the world’s problems.
“It’s cool and groovy and sassy, and I like sassy,” she said of the song.
As images of cemetery flowers and military funerals were displayed on screens round the arena, Underwood churned a soulful, almost hymn-like take on the socially-charged “The Bullet.”
But she’s at her most comfortable showcasing the influence of ‘80s rock bands like Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith.
She mashed her own hit “Just A Dream” with Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” imitating frontman Steven Tyler’s signature warble and piercing falsetto. The influence can be heard in “Flat On The Floor,” as she effortlessly bends the lyrics, pleading baby, baby, baby tell me why.
From there, she combed through her back catalog of chart-toppers, culling some a trio of her popular story songs. Columns of light sparkled as she appeared centerstage with a guitar for “Church Bells,” at one point playing off of her fellow guitar player from the opposite side of the stage.
She was flanked by her bandmates, each performing on risers of alternating heights that were accented with flames as she offered “Two Black Cadillacs.” She poured her own fury into the theatrical song, drawing out the final bye, bye for dramatic effect.
She followed with her 2012 hit about domestic abuse and revenge, “Blown Away,” as she stalked every inch of the stage, pausing to accentuate certain aspects of the story as each lyric unfurled.
Though formidable, her voice is not her only musical talent, as made known throughout the evening as she played bongos on “End Up With You” and, tickled the ivories at an upright piano, leading an audience awash in a sea of cell phone lights through “See You Again.”
This being a Nashville concert, she took time to thank the musicians, songwriters, and members of her label and management teams for their work on Cry Pretty. Underwood took on a co-producer role for the first time on this project, alongside David Garcia.
“I feel like I took more ownership of this album and took more time and I’m so proud of this album.” she noted.
As with other shows on her The Cry Pretty Tour 360, Underwood welcomed Maddie & Tae and Runaway June back to the stage for a tribute to many of country music’s chart-topping female artists. Underwood began with Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man,” a cappella. She was soon joined by Runaway June and Maddie & Tae for Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” Loretta Lynn’s “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” Dolly Parton’s “9 To 5,” The Judds’ “Rhythm of the Rain,” Trisha Yearwood’s “She’s In Love With The Boy,” Martina McBride’s “Independence Day,” Faith Hill’s “Wild One,” Reba’s “Why Haven’t I Heard From You” and Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like A Woman!”
“Growing up we were all very fortunate because we had some of the best of the best in music to idolize and they just so happened to be on country radio. They taught us all how to sing. We are lucky that because of them, we get to do what we love, we get to be up on this stage together going all over the place, doing what we love. So we are going to pay tribute to just a fraction of our ‘sheroes.’”
Though the concert leaned heavily on material from the new album, she left plenty of room for selections from her catalog of chart-toppers. There were plenty of her fiery breakup songs, such as “Before He Cheats” and “Undo It,” though the show centered around the kinds of songs Underwood does best—inspirational compositions that channel inner strength and encourage faith.
Smoke billowed over the edges of another riser as she performed one of her most well-crafted tracks, the Grammy-winning “Something In The Water.”
Revisiting her breakthrough country hit, “Jesus, Take The Wheel,” she again utilized a series of seven risers to help her ascend as the song reached its compelling crescendo, before later leading the crowd in an a cappella chorus of the song. She also offered her 2009 hit, “Temporary Home.”
“I sing a lot of songs that are faith based and I believe the words I’m singing,” she told the crowd, before her performance of “See You Again.” “I believe that when we leave this earth there is a place that is beautiful and perfect…and this isn’t the end.”
She welcomed Nashville resident Kevin to join on “The Champion,” which Underwood originally recorded with Ludacris. The song served as an opening theme for Super Bowl LII.
“People applied that hype song, that fight song, to their lives,” Underwood told the crowd. Kevin performed the rap portion of the song, spurred on by Underwood. His performance was in honor of his late grandmother, who died a year ago from liver cancer, after a six-year battle with the disease.
Afterward, the lights dimmed and the band vamped as a live shot showed Underwood applying purple and pink glitter tears similar to those featured on the cover of Cry Pretty, just before she returned to center stage. Long strands of beads glistened above the stage as she offered the vulnerable, powerful title track.
The concert concluded, appropriately, with another track from Cry Pretty, titled “Love Wins.”
As pink confetti fell around the arena, and Underwood and her band took the final bows, the song was a final victory lap in an already incredibly inspirational concert, one where the messages were often every bit as powerful as the messenger. Underwood’s approximately two-hour, in-the-round show was a supreme showcase of an artist who has more than proven her entertainer mettle, with a combination of quality songs and stunning vocal ability that has long dominated charts and hearts.
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