Carrie Underwood's Storyteller Tour Sparkles in Philadelphia

Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Carrie Underwood performs onstage during the 2015 American Music Awards at Microsoft Theater on Nov. 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, Calif. 

Mid-way through Carrie Underwood’s concert at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, she took a moment to talk about what country music means to her.

“What better genre is there to tell stories?” she asked the audience.

Underwood brought her Storyteller 2016 tour to the City of Brotherly love, and though she could just let her music do all the storytelling, the artist took  a few moments to share personal stories about her new life as a mother to her son, Isaiah (“my greatest accomplishment”), her “cool job,” and her love and respect for Dolly Parton.

That said, Underwood’s two-hour Monday night show (Feb. 22) was anything but a traditional country show, as the superstar presented a visual spectacle with a stage set-up that has to be seen to be believed.

The entire evening  is performed in the round, providing a 360-degree experience that gives every fan a chance to see the American Idol season four winner up close and personal. The stage has movable parts, allowing Underwood to emerge on a high platform or drop down below the stage for one of four stunning costume changes -- from gold to beige, and also an eye-catching red dress and a silver/black sparkly outfit with matching microphone. Driving the action is a three-tiered lighting structure that at times flashed lyrics to songs or provided a kaleidoscope of color to keep up with the evening’s action-packed pace.

Underwood set the high-octane tone before even setting foot on the stage as AC/DC’s “Back in Black” blared throughout the arena.  As the lighting structure lowered to the center of the stage like the mother ship landing on Earth, Underwood’s amazingly tight six-piece band (pedal steel guitars, banjos and fiddles each got their proper due) emerged like magic playing the opening refrains of “Renegade Runaway.”  Glittering in a gold, sparkly mini-dress and long black boots, Underwood came out swinging with “Last Name” (mixed with a little bit of the Miranda Lambert duet, “Something Bad”) and the anthem “Good Girl” amidst a backdrop of swirling lights and a rotating stage.

“I am always so excited when we play Philadelphia,” she exclaimed. “You guys are crazy -- and I like crazy.”

The audience at the Wells Fargo Center was definitely loud, engaging in many sing-alongs throughout the evening. "Jesus Take the Wheel," for instance, took the audience to church, and the electric energy in the venue amped Underwood even more as the evening went on. Even though it was obvious she was fighting off a cold, Underwood overcame that like the professional she is, hitting an unbelievably high note while belting her early hit, “Wasted.”

Vocal fireworks doesn’t tell the whole story, however. There are sparklers, lasers, explosions, smoke, and even actual fireworks thrown in for good measure. For “Cowboy Casanova,” Underwood ascends from beneath the stage atop a jukebox awash in sparklers and visuals of vinyl records on the video screens. Later in the show, Underwood emerged in a bedazzled red dress to underscore the drama of her hit, “Blown Away,” recreating a tornado effect with the 32-year old in the center of the storm.

While Underwood said she was proud that the songs on that album were “dramatic, edgy and cool,” she admitted it was kind of scary to find new themes for new material on the next album.

“I’m really proud of this Storyteller album,” she said. “It’s different for me.”

Newer songs -- particularly “Heartbeat” and the “twangy” “Dirty Laundry” -- from that October release fared well in this setting.  Especially surprising was a harmonica duel, in which Underwood showed off her new harp skills on the song “Choctaw County Affair.”

A sweet cover of Parton’s “I Will Always Love You” and a group number  of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s  “Fishin’ in the Dark,” with openers Easton Corbin and The Swon Brothers, continued the party until the superstar got the entire audience involved in the act with her “Carriecam,” videotaping fans for the big screens and making sure to make contact with the fans in the general admission area. A communal rave up of “Before He Cheats” capped off the night before she returned for a stunning finale of “Smoke Break” and “Something in the Water,” where the lights created a purple waterfall, enveloping her in serene colors for a cool finish.

Early attendees to the show were treated to openers The Swon Brothers, who provided a short but extremely fun set that included cuts from their new album, "Timeless." A cover of Jason DeRulo's "Want to Want Me" got the crowd dancing, and elicited cheers from fans of The Voice alum.

Florida's Easton Corbin was equally entertaining, with a funny bit mixing in Michael Jackson's "Beat It" (an ode to the year he was born-1982), Metallica's "Enter Sandman" and TLC's "Waterfalls" before delivering a spirited cover of Toby Keith's "Should Have Been a Cowboy." Corbin incorporated the audience into his set as well with a fun call for participation on his new song, "Yup" and older treats, "Lovin' You is Fun." Preceding "Are You With Me," he gave a heartfelt speech to the servicemen in attendance at the show, mentioning that his own father was a Vietnam War veteran.

Set List

  1. "Renegade Runaway"
  2. "Last Name"/ "Something Bad"
  3. "Undo It"
  4. "Good Girl"
  5. "Church Bells"
  6. "Mexico" (Instrumental Transition)
  7. "Cowboy Casanova"
  8. "Heartbeat"
  9. "Jesus, Take the Wheel"
  10. "Wasted"
  11. "Blown Away"
  12. "Two Black Cadillacs"
  13. "Dirty Laundry"
  14. "Choctaw County Affair"
  15. "Relapse" (Instrumental Transition)
  16. "I Will Always Love You" (Dolly Parton cover) (Acoustic)
  17. "What I Never Knew I Always Wanted"
  18. "Fishin' in the Dark" (The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band cover) (With Easton Corbin & The Swon Brothers)
  19. "Clock Don't Stop"
  20. "All-American Girl" 
  21. "Little Toy Guns"
  22. "Before He Cheats
  23. "Smoke Break"
  24. "Something in the Water"