Carrie Underwood insisted, “You can’t be a woman in country music without a lot of bling-bling” as she modeled the third of the five sparkling outfits she wore during her headlining appearance at the Sprint Center on Thursday.
But Underwood, the owner of a powerhouse voice that seemed to shake the foundation of the arena during her two-hour appearance, didn’t require any embellishments to win over the audience of more than 12,000.
She and an eight-piece backing band performed on a futuristic oval stage in the center of the audience. The stage, augmented by mobile screens and hydraulic platforms, resembled the runway at an extravagant fashion show. The layout compelled Underwood and the women in the opening acts, Maddie & Tae and Runaway June, to constantly wave to fans as they circled the stage.
All of the women are as glamorous as supermodels, but their beauty is far less important than the talent they pour into their bold songs of female empowerment.
Since winning TV’s “American Idol” in 2005, Underwood has been one of country music’s most reliable stars. The Oklahoma native is touring in support of her sixth album, “Cry Pretty.”
The 36-year-old mother of two is a subtly subversive artist. For every ordinary love song and party anthem on the set list, she belted out a selection about a topical issue. The deliriously vapid “Southbound” was balanced by “Bullet,” a plea addressing the emotional toll of gun violence. The hilarious yarn “Last Name” was followed by the domestic violence saga “Church Bells.”
Underwood was joined by Maddie & Tae and Runaway June for a medley of beloved hits by female country artists, such as Patsy Cline. They each began their sets with a modern-day classic of their own. Runaway June’s “Buy My Own Drinks” is a potent ode to independence. Maddie & Tae’s “Girl in a Country Song” is a stinging rebuke of the casual sexism in many of the country hits sung by men.
By cushioning their protestations about the status quo with grace and humor, all three of Thursday’s acts could incite change while appearing to play the conventional roles dictated by the country music establishment. Citing her penchant for flashy clothes, Underwood joked, “I want this on my tombstone: ‘More rhinestones!’” Yet the actual legacy Underwood will one day leave behind was radiantly displayed on Thursday. She’s an artist who uses her remarkable voice to entertain and inspire in equal measure.
Carrie Underwood: Southbound; Cowboy Casanova; Good Girl; Last Name; Backsliding; Church Bells; Two Black Cadillacs; Blown Away; Drinking Alone; End Up With You; Flat on the Floor; Wasted; medley: Temporary Home/See You Again/I Know You Won’t/Just a Dream/Dream On; Jesus, Take the Wheel; The Bullet; Something in the Water; Low; medley: Stand By Your Man/Coal Miner’s Daughter/Walkin’ After Midnight/9 to 5/Rockin’ With the Rhythm of the Rain/She’s in Love With the Boy/Independence Day/Wild One/Why Haven’t I Heard From You/Man! I Feel Like a Woman!; Undo It/Freedom; The Champion; Before He Cheats; Cry Pretty; Love Wins.
Maddie & Tae: Tourist in This Town; Bathroom Floor; Friends Don’t; Fly; Die From a Broken Heart; Meet in the Middle; New Dog Old Tricks; Girl in a Country Song.
Runaway June: Lipstick; Head Over Heels; Fast as You; Trouble With This Town; We Were Rich; Buy My Own Drinks.