One thing is very clear about Carrie Underwood: She’s not afraid of heights!
Carrie brought her Play On Tour to Music City’s Bridgestone Arena Wednesday night, playing quite often with the altitude in the place. A series of hydraulic platforms lifted her at times 15 feet above the stage, which was already several feet above the venue’s floor. A swing lifted her 12 feet or so as she belted out “Just A Dream.” And the night’s biggest effect had her singing John Denver’s “Take Me Home, Country Roads” from the back of a pickup truck that travelled over the audience, hung from a track cabled to the ceiling.
But the real heights were the tone and volume of her performances. Carrie’s recordings are always big, but in person, she’s even more impressive, kicking out those challenging vocals for an hour and 45 minutes, letting up only long enough for the occasional costume change. She hit those notes with impressive precision, not only holding the tones but also delivering them with power.
Particularly stunning was “I Know You Won’t,” a song from the Carnival Ride album that had her hitting difficult intervals with clarity and expression. Singers do that periodically while contorting their faces and their bodies, but not Carrie. She rendered the whole thing with minimal effort while sitting on a step. The effect was simply jaw-dropping.
With her unrelenting power and attraction to dramatic material, Carrie is essentially the latest in a stylistic line that derives from Martina McBride and Trisha Yearwood, who in turn bear some similarity in approach to their predecessor, Linda Ronstadt. And if she employed just a little more campy drama, you could compare Carrie to powerhouse Patti LaBelle, too.
After Wednesday’s show, which included opening acts Billy Currington and Sons Of Sylvia, the after-party was all about Carrie — a room full of executives ate doughnuts and biscuits and sweet potato pancakes on a stick, and talked about what a significant display they’d just seen. Fellow “American Idol” alum Danny Gokey was there, as were Grand Ole Opry manager Pete Fisher and songwriters Brett James (“Cowboy Casanova”), Ashley Gorley (“You’re Gonna Miss This”) and Kelley Lovelace (“All-American Girl”).
And some of the folks in the room were probably wishing they could have a second shot at filling out their early-round CMA ballots, because you can make a pretty easy case that a woman with that kind of natural talent and that level of showmanship belongs among the Entertainer of the Year finalists.