Carrie Underwood's Blown Away Tour doesn't deliver on its lofty promise.
The trek's stop at Oracle Arena in Oakland on Monday included some moderately entertaining theatrics, a nice enough set list and a handful of vocal highlights. It was not, however, something that blew you away.
Chalk it up as further proof that Underwood's live show remains the one glaring weakness to her game. She can crank out the hit singles and albums, win countless awards and charm TV audiences. Yet, she still can't figure out how to reach comparable heights in concert.
This is troublesome. Blown Away is Underwood's third headlining jaunt -- following 2008's Carnival Ride and 2010-11's Play On tours -- and one would've hoped to have seen some noticeable signs of improvement over the years. If anything, however, she seems to be slipping in the wrong direction.
And people seem to be noticing. This Oakland show hardly did banner business -- roughly 8,000 fans turned out to a building that can hold twice that many. The lower section was full, but the upper deck was empty and shrouded by curtains. Now, 8,000 is not a bad turnout, especially for a Monday, but it's a far cry from what a celebrity of Underwood's stature should draw.
One of the problems is that this 2005 "American Idol" champ, who has long played the "girl next door" role to perfection in front of TV cameras, just can't seem to figure out who she wants to be in the live arena. Is she a country crooner or a full-fledged pop diva? On the Blown Away Tour, she tries to be both and, as a result, fails to be entirely convincing at either.
Opening the show with "Good Girl," a No. 1 country hit from last year's "Blown Away," the 29-year-old Oklahoman proceeded to cross over from country to pop, and back again, so many times that she's lucky there was no monetary toll. Yet, the toll was extracted in other ways, as the numbing brand of bland music, which could be accurately filed in numerous sections at your local record store, grew more tedious as the night progressed.
Underwood's set list, as one would expect, has definitely improved over the years, since she now has four hit albums to draw from. Her sense of fashion, however, certainly hasn't. She wore some of the most ludicrous outfits I've ever seen at a major pop concert. And that includes all of the times I've seen Cher in concert.
By contrast, the staging was quite tasteful. Underwood and her band mostly performed in front of some large video screens, which displayed the players as well as appropriate imagery for the individual songs. The singer did, however, have one big-budget trick up her sleeve -- a floating stage.
Underwood and three musicians boarded a platform, which was then lifted by wires high above the crowd. The apparatus, designed to look like a hot-air balloon, slowly soared around the building as the singer belted out "Nobody Ever Told You" and other tunes.
Her voice sounded strong, even on the weaker material. The vocal highlights included the weepy "I Told You So" (originally made famous by Randy Travis in the late '80s), the uplifting "Jesus, Take the Wheel" and, most impressive of all, the absolute tour de force of "I Know You Won't," which came during the encore.
Underwood's set, despite its problems, was an absolute thrill ride compared to what opener Hunter Hayes delivered earlier in the night. The 21-year-old vocalist-guitarist was unbearably dull, coming across like the Jason Mraz of country -- which, just to be clear, is not a good thing.
The one thing his overly earnest, utterly unremarkable set showed was that Grammy voters definitely made the right choice in picking fun., over Hayes, for this year's best new artist. Fun. isn't a great band but, in direct comparison to Hayes, it pretty much comes across like the Beatles.
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