Carrie Underwood Is In Command At Toyota Center

All shall love her and despair.
All shall love her and despair. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Carrie Underwood, Maddie & Tae, Runaway June
September 21, 2019
Toyota Center

It took me a second to remember Carrie Underwood won American Idol.

In fairness, there's a lot about that show I've forgotten, whether inadvertently (age) or deliberately (booze). But Underwood's blockbuster post-Idol success has vaulted her into rarefied air the likes of which Taylor Hicks and ... [Googles] David Cook can only dream of. Even Kelly Clarkson — currently Idol's best-selling artist — can't shake the association, thanks to being the show's first ever winner.

Underwood mentioned Idol briefly, acknowledging its role in launching her career with apparent sincerity. Everything else about the show, however, showcased what a polished performer she's become. And one, not coincidentally, who may finally be chafing at the confines of the genre that made her famous.

They aren't calling it the "Cry Pretty Tour 360" for nothing, by the way. Last night's show was the first "in the round' setup I'd seen at the Toyota Center since Ramin Djawadi's Game of Thrones experience. It's a concept I run hot or cold on, depending on when the artist in question is actually singing to my side of the arena. To her credit, Underwood, played it about as equitably as possible.

Not that she needed to be facing you, of course, Underwood's range is tremendous, and she belted out tunes like "Good Girl" and "Church Bells" with authori-tah. It was perhaps even more impressive in songs that strayed from country confines, like "Drinking Alone" from Cry Pretty, an album as beholden to R&B influences as Nashville.

"Drinking Alone" was paired with "End Up With You," which featured Underwood playing a djembe. Between that, the record scratching in show opener "Southbound" and the rapping in "Champion" (with accompaniment from a young lady from Dripping Springs), you might wonder if the singer was contemplating a Taylor Swift/Kacey Musgraves-style genre shift.

click to enlarge
Carrie Underwood isn't ignorant of current realities.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
But no. Underwood — as she herself stated — still prefers the "old-fashioned country cheatin' song." And there were plenty of those to be had: "Church Bells," "Two Black Cadillacs," "Good Girl," "Before He Cheats." These dovetail nicely with her faith-oriented efforts. She's pretty clear during the show (notably before "See You Again") she takes this side seriously, a sentiment reinforced during set closer "Jesus, Take the Wheel."

Yet whether it's recent motherhood or a simple grasping of the modern world, Underwood isn't ignorant of current realities. "The Bullet" is about as anti-gun as you could expect from someone of her pedigree, but even blurred by incongruous footage of military funerals, the message was clear. And cliched or not, you don't sing that many songs about domestic violence absent a personal stance on the issue.

Perhaps the most refreshing moment of the show was when Underwood introduced a medley paying respect to the female country artists who paved the way for her success. Joined by opening acts Runaway June and Maddie & Tae, she worked through a selection of songs including "Stand By Your Man," "Coal Miner's Daughter," "9 to 5," and "Man! I Feel Like A Woman." But this was certainly no "white trash version of Shania karaoke."

Carrie Underwood is 36 years old, a mother of two, and in full command of her career. I won't cop to being a huge fan, but last night showed she clearly has no intention of resting on her laurels. The coming years should be very interesting indeed.

What About the Opener(s)? Only caught the tail end of the extremely fit Runaway June. Maddie & Tae were briefly plagued by Tae's mike issues, but otherwise well received (especially "Friends Don't" and "Girl in a Country Song"). Maddie (Madison Marlow) is from Sugar Land, and was pretty verklempt during her closing numbers.

Personal Bias: I loathe American Idol, but at least it gave us at least two fantastic singers (Clarkson and Underwood).

The Crowd: The stage setup allowed for people in general admission on the floor of the Toyota Center, and to their credit, they did not murder each other.

Overheard In The Crowd (actually asked of my 10-year old daughter): "You want straight Sprite or a Shirley Temple?"

Random Notebook Dump: "Is this 'DJ amping up the crowd between sets' shit new? Because it sucks."

Cowboy Casanova
Good Girl
Last Name
Church Bells
Two Black Cadillacs
Blown Away
Drinking Alone
End Up With You
Flat on the Floor
Temporary Home / See You Again / I Know You Won't / Just a Dream / Dream On (Aerosmith cover)
Jesus, Take the Wheel
The Bullet
Something in the Water
Stand By Your Man / Walking After Midnight / Coal Miner's Daughter / 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
The Champion
Before He Cheats

Cry Pretty
Love Wins
KEEP THE HOUSTON PRESS FREE... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar