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Carrie Underwood

by Shawn Stone on December 13, 2012

Carrie Underwood TIMES UNION CENTER, DEC. 4

Carrie Underwood’s production at the Times Union Center last week is what a “really big show” is supposed to be. Underwood may have gotten her start by winning American Idol, but she’s grown into a genuine music-biz phenomenon. She has a big, appealing voice that soars on ballads and can rock out; she has a long string of country hits that have consistently crossed over on

the pop charts. And she used this success to present an arena-scaled show that mesmerized the capacity crowd at the TUC and was as impressive as any I’ve ever seen.

She began with the infectious “Good Girl,” from her latest album Blown Away, and followed it with one familiar tune after another, including “Undo It,” “I Told You So,” “All- American Girl,” “Temporary Home,” “Jesus Take the Wheel” and “Cowboy Casanova.”

The set, which consisted of large screens that shifted and tilted, raised and lowered in a complex theatrical geometry, suggested a modern take on the abstract TV variety sets of the late 1960s and early ’70s. But despite this complexity and scale, it never overshadowed Underwood or her songs.

Looking around the TUC before showtime, one couldn’t help but notice the giant track apparatus suspended from the ceiling. It ran the length of the arena, and, at the back of the house, three large, deflated Japanese lantern/balloon-type thingys were suspended from it. By the time Underwood finished “Casanova” and vanished again (there were four costume changes, if you’re keeping score at home), the lanterns had moved to the front of the arena and inflated. Roadies appeared and attached them to a part of the stage, and cordoned the area off with rustic fence- style railings.

Underwood reappeared, and she and three of her musicians climbed over the railings. The front of the stage was then lifted into the air and began to drift over the crowd—who, entirely appropriately, went nuts.

The 20-plus-minute, semi-acoustic set that followed was perfectly enjoyable and completely eclipsed by the staging. It was a show-stopping triumph. How would she top it?

As it turned out, she topped it by rocking out. A dozen years ago or so, Shania Twain raised a few eyebrows among the country folk with her arena-rock moves; though Twain famously sported a Ramones T-shirt, she never rocked as hard as Underwood did when the latter tore into Aerosmith’s “Sweet Emotion.” She and her band created a powerhouse sound that did justice to the original—though, as a good country girl, Underwood lowered the mic when it was time to sing the word “ass.”

The rest of the show was more hits—“Remind Me,” with a video version of Brad Paisley “singing” along, “Before He Cheats,” and then an encore capped by “Blown Away.”

She came, she sang, she triumphed.

Opener Hunter Hayes, a Grammy nominee for best new artist, seemed like a pleasant enough young person. Though his name sounds classic country-macho, and his logo would look at home on a semi’s mud flaps, he’s a Bieber-sized pop idol with very little twang in his sound. His songs aren’t memorable, but they’re inoffensive. And he didn’t overstay his welcome.