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November 17, 2010

Review: Carrie Underwood at 1st Mariner Arena, November 16

PX00223_9.JPGSix songs into her show at 1st Mariner Arena Tuesday night, Carrie Underwood pulled out all the stops and brought out the vegetation.

After she’d steamrolled through “Wasted” and “Quitter” – two songs that nicely showed off a brassy attitude – the stage was bathed in green lights.

Rain sound effects started playing over the speakers, and an enormous fake tree branch descended from the ceiling with a swing set hanging from it, making the arena look like the forest in “Fern Gully.”

She didn’t just deliver her next number, “Just a Dream,”already a schmaltzy love song, wearing a ruffled, Pepto-bismol-pink, floor-length skirt, she did it while swinging from that tree branch.

Usually, such images don’t exist outside straight-to-video Disney movies, but Underwood returned to them again and again Tuesday night, marring what would have otherwise been a solid showcase of her voice. A remarkable singer with five Grammys to her credit and a string of hits after winning “American Idol” in 2005, she has two performance registers: cheesy and defiant, pivoting between rowdy numbers - usually written by the great songwriter Hillary Lindsey - and fluff like “Just a Dream.”

While she hit all her notes, emoted on cue, and sparkled nearly as much as Ryan Seacrest’s highlights during all 21 of her numbers, it was only during those moments of pent-up abandon (“Last Name,” “Quitter”) that she was at her best.

Underwood took the stage a little after 9 p.m., straddling a red divan and sporting a Gothic trench coat and a gaudy choker. (Her openers were Billy Currington and Sons of Sylvia, who, at least judging by an autograph line that rivaled the one to the women’s room, were a hit with the crowd. )

Performing before a mostly sold-out arena, she kicked things off with three rousing kiss-off songs, “Cowboy Casanova,” “Wasted” and “Quitter” that showed off an attitude fit for her big voice.

She was excellent in “Wasted,” written by Lindsey, leading rather than keeping up with her energetic seven piece band.

Though she didn’t really move, overact, or, in fact, leave her red couch during these first few numbers, she’s a powerful enough singer that she still registered the cockiness the songs demand. Her back-up singer was left with not much to do but dance beside the fiddle player in the top hat.

She switched gears for the next portion of the show, slowing things down with “Just a Dream,” the kind of song that sounds ripped from a Hallmark musical greeting card.

And then delivered a spiel she’s no doubt already recounted before many an award show: how she slept on the back of her mom’s car on her way to the “American Idol” audition, how she watched awards shows as a little girl, how she first heard the demo to “Jesus, Take the Wheel” while cleaning her bathroom.

“The last five or six years have been pretty awesome for me,” she said, the giant tree branch hanging behind her, looking sadly out of place, as fake as all the sentiment on stage.

Songs like “Temporary Home” and “Change” – both a series of mawkish vignettes of stock characters who’ve fallen on hard times – were meant to play like sincere ballads, but sounded anything but. It didn’t help matters she sang the latter song behind an LCD dress that displayed images of rainbows and shooting stars.

She also misfired with John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Instead of playing it like the earnest ode to Americana that it is, she did it while riding a flashy blue pick-up truck that didn’t look like it had ever been taken out of the dealership, let alone been in West Virginia.

Only when she performed her duet with Randy Travis, “I Told you So,” did she strike the right tone on a ballad. Love songs don’t have to be overdone; they don’t have to come with a cloying montage of wedding photos – like “Mama’s Song” did – they can be stripped down and simple. With Travis performing on video, it was her most honestly country moment in an otherwise pop-ified set.

Thankfully, for the finale, she played three tunes that played to her strengths. On “Last Name,” also written by Lindsey, she sounded sassy and defiant; a performance fit for a bachelorette party. And on “Songs like This,” she sampled Beyonce’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

“Wanna find some boy/ rip his heart right out/First man I see, gonna take him down/It ain't the Christian thing/to do, they say/But someone, somewhere's gotta pay.”

It was an appropriate mashup that showed that, like Beyonce, Underwood sounds best when she’s on a rampage.

See photos from the show.

 Set list:

1. Cowboy Casanova
2. Quitter
3. Wasted
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. Take Me Home, Country Roads (John Denver cover)
12. This Time
13. Undo It
14. Jesus, Take the Wheel
15. What Can I Say (duet with Sons of Sylvia)
16. Change
17. I Told You So
18. Mama's Song
19. Last Name


20. Before he Cheats
21. Songs like This

Photo: Gene Sweeney Jr./Baltimore Sun

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Posted by Erik Maza at 3:23 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Concert reviews


FYI: Hillary Lindsey also cowrote the "fluff" song Just A Dream. Which is about a young bride to be who loses her fiance to war. The swing's intended to contrast the innocence of being young with the cruelty of losing somebody you love.

I don't disagree with you about I Told You So being the best ballad in the set. But I think I Know You Won't deserves some props from early in the set and so does Someday When I Stop Loving You (cowritten by Hillary Lindsey). Temporary Home seemed sincere to me too and maybe the most sincere moment of the night was when she tacked on the hymn How Great Thou Art to Jesus Take The Wheel.

Love the review...but what's up with the monotonous gallery? Where are the costume changes and sets you write about? You're working hard reviewing; why weren't you paired with a photographer with the stamina to match?

Patchen: I believe that might be because of restrictions from management that only allow photography by the media during the 1st portion of the concert. I don't think that's the photographer's fault.

I stand correct. Thanks, Daphne!

[Patchen looks in mirror, sees the face of an ignorant commenter staring back.] I've become everything I ever hated!

Corrected. I stand corrected.

This is so not my day.

Reading this review and having seen the Play On tour it's hard to believe the writer really attended the show.
Much less has a clue what they're talking about - newsflash Hilary Lindsey co wrote the "fluff'.
And she delivered the first few songs barely leaving the red couch?? Wrong again,it's not even on stage after Cowboy Casanova.
Pretty poorly written review in all facets.

She is so hot

Bottom line, isn't it about pleasing the fans? And no one does that better than Carrie--if it's fluff that keeps people coming back, songs about soldiers that people can relate to and ridiculous LCD screen dresses that have the audience's eyes glued to the stage, then that makes for a good show. No, it's not understated-- it's a country music show. Just watch the CMA awards. The genre is all about theatrics, pleasing the fans and having a good time without reservations about looking silly.
For her fans, Carrie did a great job. This review needs to look at the show in the context of what country singers do.
Also, Carrie's story is inherently genuine--she won American Idol! She drove all that way and stood in line and waited week after week to succeed. There is nothing contrived about the once in a lifetime opportunity she was given, and standing on stage in front of 10,000 fans must be genuinely surreal every single time.

If Erik Maza reviewed any country show by a popular, contemporary singer, he would have exactly the same criticisms. No need to hate the player. And no need to come into a show as an objective journalist with reservations about an entire game.

haha, Maza, you really screwed yourself on this one. Now you'll have all of us regular jerks giving you a hard time AND the Google Alert Fan Police dropping by to take a swipe.

I'm not even sure we were at the same show with this reviewer! There are more than a few discrepancies here...So what's wrong with Carrie hanging out on the couch and blasting out Cowboy Casanova?? Cheesy and Defiant?? You have got to be kidding. Powerful and sassy might be better words. I thought she came out there and put on a pretty good show overall. I enjoyed all the costume changes and riding around the arena in the truck was kinda neat. Who ever said it needed to be a beater from WVA?? The reviews I enjoy reading usually contain at least a somewhat accurate representation of the show. Yours did not. I don't mind disagreement but you need to keep it real. If you don't like country/pop (they call it 'New Country' these days), then perhaps one of your colleagues should attend the show on those nights...thanks Carrie for coming to Baltimore!

Daphne is correct. Photographers are generally allowed to shoot 3 songs (but sometimes two or even only one), with no flash, from one particular spot.

I really have to wonder where your head was when you were at the Play On tour.
I have seen it, and it is by far the best concert I have ever seen. Carrie, is so sincere when delivering all of her songs and Jesus Take The Wheel, segwaying into How Great Thou Art, got a 10 min. standing ovation. It gave me goosebumps, as did many of her songs. I love I Know You Won't. That song really shows how great a vocalist Carrie is. She is so awesome, as is every part of the amazing show and set that she performs on.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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