Carrie Underwood may have 16 No. 1 Billboard Country Airplay hits and nine top country albums to her credit, but her live shows spotlight her gift as a multi-faceted and genre-fluid vocalist and performer.
One of music’s mightiest vocalists, Underwood brought her headlining The Denim & Rhinestones Tour to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on Wednesday (March 1), and used her nearly two-hour set to showcase her range of influences.
Seven-time CMA Award winner Underwood revealed an amped-up twang on the staunchly country “She Don’t Know” (which Underwood noted was partially inspired by Dolly Parton’s “Jolene”) from her Denim & Rhinestones album, as she donned a glittering, gold fringe coat and matching cowboy hat. She later wore a black leather jacket and demonstrated a growling, hard-core cover of Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Meanwhile, the megawatt, pure-toned rendering of her 2005 debut “Jesus, Take The Wheel”– meshed with gospel hymn “How Great Thou Art”– instantly had many in the approximately 20,000-capacity venue raising their hands.
“When we started working on [the Denim & Rhinestones] album and they asked me what I wanted to do, I said, ‘I just want to have fun,” the eight-time Grammy winner told the crowd. “I love singing these songs and dancing along. It makes my heart very happy to be able to sing all the Denim & Rhinestones songs.”
Echoing the light-hearted, bubbly tone of her Denim & Rhinestones era, white and pink streamers cascaded from the ceiling as Underwood opened the show with a trifecta of early hits, “Good Girl,” “Church Bells” and “Undo It.”
Of course, there was still plenty of drama, sass and uplifting music ahead for the evening, including “Blown Away,” “Last Name,” “Flat on the Floor,” and “Wasted,” which Underwood called one of her favorite songs. Her rendition of “Cry Pretty,” with its stunning final flurry of notes, brought the crowd to its feet, with cheers hearty enough to cause Underwood to pause and thank the audience, before finishing the song.
“This is our hometown show. Are you gonna help us blow the roof off of this place tonight?,” Underwood said early in the show, challenging the audience.
An array of production elements further elevated the music—fire shot up from the stage during “Burn,” while during “Ghost Story,” Underwood was hoisted into the air on a flower-laden swing that transported her over the crowd to a satellite stage in the back of the room, where she performed another revenge-fueled song (albeit this one seeking physical rather than emotional revenge), with the dramatic “Two Black Cadillacs” and “Garden,” a gentler, more reflective song from Denim & Rhinestones.
“It’s a good reminder to myself and hopefully for anybody that listens to it, that it is very important, especially in today’s world, to put positive things out into the world,” Underwood said.
Settling in to perform on the smaller stage at the back of the arena, Underwood noted that her two previous tours—the Cry Pretty Tour 360 and the Storyteller Tour: Stories in the Round—were each held in the round, something she loved because it allowed the singer-songwriter “to see everybody, at some point.”
“For this one I said, ‘I know people are going to say we need to switch it up,’ and I agree, it’s good to switch things up, [good] for you, and for us, to keep things interesting. But I said, ‘I’ll do it on one condition: I gotta be able to see everybody.’”
Addressing the crowd at the back of the arena, she said, “So hello. This is how we do it”— quickly slipping in a vocalization of the 1995 Montell Jordan hit, before adding with a grin, “I fly. I put myself in harm’s way so I can see everyone.”
To return to the mainstage, she took a cue from her Carrie Underwood: Reflection residency at Resorts World Theatre in Las Vegas, and once again taking to the sky during “Crazy Angels,” turning in some aerial acrobatics while harnessed into a steel ball with neon wings.
Underwood also had a few surprise guests ready for Music City: early on in the evening, the crowd’s cheers reached a fever-pitch as Jason Aldean joined Underwood for their multi-week No. 1, Grammy-nominated hit “If I Didn’t Love You.”
Underwood’s time on the satellite stage saw the reunion of “Paisleywood,” as Brad Paisley joined her onstage and the two quickly resumed a tradition well-remembered from their 11-year tenure as co-hosts of the CMA Awards—a quirky song filled with witty zingers.
In this case, they poked fun at the 2022 CMA Awards co-hosts, Luke Bryan and NFL legend Peyton Manning, with Underwood singing that Paisley was funnier than Bryan, and Paisley returning the jab and telling Underwood that she was “Prettier than Peyton.” They continued in song in earnest, singing, “I know you’ve missed us, We’ve missed you, too/ Let’s have some fun at Bridgestone Arena, like we used to do,” before Paisley tucked in a humorous nod to the tour’s title, with a lyric about wearing rhinestone “underoos.” “Paisleywood” followed with their 2011 hit, the sensuous “Remind Me.”
Underwood welcomed tour opener Jimmie Allen back to the stage for “Denim & Rhinestones,” as Underwood and “Freedom Was a Highway” hitmaker Allen shared choreographed dance moves.
Underwood, a Grand Ole Opry member who commandeered a medley of classic country songs from various eras on the ACMs in 2020, is the same artist who released the faith-centric project My Savior and Christmas album My Gift, and embraced her love of rock, welcoming Guns N’ Roses singer Axl Rose during her Stagecoach Festival set last year, sang with Aerosmith on the ACM Awards and performed with Joan Jett during CMA Fest. At Bridgestone, some of her concert’s most stunning moments were her rock-edged songs, such as when she prowled the stage with consummate swagger during “Poor Everybody Else,” and pummeled a drum set, before tossing the drumsticks and retaking control of the mic.
She closed the evening with her 2006 hit “Before He Cheats,” and yielding her mic at moments to the audience, who roared their approval and took over the track’s defiant, self-affirming chorus.
Still, the most compelling portion of the concert—the heart of the show beyond even the songs, high-octane voice, special guests and sizzling production—was simply Underwood herself. The singer-songwriter radiated a pure joy and a full-throttle, energetic passion—hallmarks of an entertainer in full command of her artistry.