Carrie Underwood is reaching something entirely different than her route to fame in 2005 as an “American Idol”-winning country girl. Her concert at the Nokia Theater wasn’t always successful, but one has to admire the attempt.
The muddled 90-minute show feels like three performers shoehorned into one — the down-home singer who still remembers when her hometown of Checotah, Okla., had only one stop light; the uplifting, big voiced country balladeer; and the sassy gal who just wants to rock.
She can soar like Martina McBride on the redemptive “Jesus Take The Wheel,” but when she stands on top of a rising platform and pummels her way through the bathetic climax of “I Know You Won’t,” she turns into a south of the Mason-Dixon Line Celine Dion. She high-steps it as a honky tonk Cinderella looking for her prince on “The Boys I Meet,” but the more aggressive, country-fried metal of “Flat on the Floor” comes off as forced.
Underwood appears most comfortable singing the Broadway-inflected country of “Some Hearts,” but that side of her personality was given short shift; the show’s most sustained country sequence was a video montage (shown to fill a costume change) of her being asked to join the Grand Ole Opry, shots of magazine covers and clips from various awards shows, focusing, not un-coincidently, on the Country Music Awards, which she will be co-hosting with Brad Paisley on Wednesday.
No matter what style she’s assaying, the staging and often the arrangements, looked to the classic rock of the late ’70s and early ’80s for inspiration. The two-tiered stage comes equipped with lasers and hydraulics, and while her band is accessorized with fiddles, dobros and pedal steel guitar, when it’s time for the band to stretch out, they take on the Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (which leads into the crunchy hedonism of “Last Name,” where a good girl looking for some excitement ends up married in Vegas). But even this meets with mixed results.
A cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Go Your Own Way” — in the vernacular of Idol is “pitchy” and “shouty” — is saved by opening act Little Big Town, an attractive, well scrubbed quartet whose plush harmonies are far superior to their often tepid material. In the encore, she gets a chance to howl away on Guns ‘N’ Roses “Paradise City.”