“In case you don’t know it, we’re at a country music concert,” Carrie Underwood, the uncrowned queen of modern country, declared a half-hour into her performance Tuesday night at Target Center.
Gosh, darn, could have fooled me. After power rockers and power ballads, it felt like over-shrill. Like the “American Idol”-turned-Nashville sweetheart had transformed into a screaming rock ‘n’ roll vixen auditioning for a Guns N’ Roses tribute band.
Then, finally, for her eighth song, Underwood pointed out that her band was so country that they have two fiddlers. Moreover, she said she brought out some country props (her words), specifically a cowgirl hat, a long coat with long fringe and a glass of red wine. And she explained that she thought of Dolly Parton and “Jolene” when she wrote the next song.
Well, I’ll be if “She Don’t Know” wasn’t a perfect Dollyesque tune, a dark, bluegrassy grumble about the other woman who will end up burned by him just like she was. I guess Underwood is still country. She proved it again later on the acoustic selection “Garden,” a pretty ballad about being kind, as in “you reap what you sow, what kind of garden would you grow.”
Those two new numbers are from this year’s “Denim & Rhinestones” album, which mostly suggests that Underwood now yearns to be Shania Twain, not Axl Rose. Maybe that explains why the album hasn’t been her usual bestseller and why Target Center’s balcony was half-full on a school night.
About a third of Tuesday’s show was devoted to material from the new album. And Underwood’s staging reflected the Denim & Rhinestones Tour theme, with diamond shapes on the stage and runway as well as a succession of outfits dripping in rhinestones.
The 110-minute presentation allowed the country superstar to prove that she’s more than a volcanic vocalist, sparkly fashionista and spectacle-loving performer. The vocal gymnast is apparently an aspiring gymnast of another sort. She rode on a swing over the crowd to a satellite stage (during “Ghost Story”) and returned later (during “Crazy Angels”) via a globe-like cage, straddling the frame like an aerial acrobat. Not to worry. Underwood would not be mistaken for the derring-do of Pink, pop’s ultimate aerial daredevil who does somersaults over the crowd while singing.
To be sure, the evening wasn’t all vocal overkill. Underwood showcased nuanced singing on the gospely medley of “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” her 2005 breakthrough hit, and the hymn “How Great Thou Art.” And the tune “Denim & Rhinestones,” featuring opening act Jimmie Allen singing and dancing with Underwood, was relatively subdued.
But the 39-year-old Oklahoman will rock you. She banged the drums on the rip-roaring new piece “Poor Everybody Else,” belted the ebullient strut “Last Name” and shrieked the ultimate penultimate piece, Guns N’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.”
Allen, a late starter who is only two years younger than Underwood, showed why he is the reigning CMA best new artist. Apparently thinking this was the lamé-and-rhinestones tour, the colorful Delaware native demonstrated a stand-out stage manner, dancing like Michael Jackson (spins and a sideways moonwalk), autographing his tank top before tossing it into the crowd and sharing details about his two days in Minneapolis (he went to the Timberwolves game and declared that they sadly played like a high school team, and he had his baby’s wagon stolen by a homeless man from outside his tour bus but got it back and donated money to the man). Allen manifested an appealing voice but his presence was stronger than his songs.