OAKLAND — Fans of country superstar Carrie Underwood may have had to wait an extra day to see their idol on stage at Oracle Arena Friday night, but their patience was rewarded. The show, originally scheduled for Thursday, was postponed by a day to make way for a Golden State Warriors Conference Finals game.
“We found out we were going to have move the show and we just rolled with it,” Underwood said early on in her two-hour performance.
The show was set in the round, with a vast, figure-eight-style stage with band members flanking all sides. The perimeter of the stage was set incredibly high, putting the country songstress close to fans in the arena’s lower bowl while others on the floor gathered around the outside of the stage with two pits set in the center.
Underwood rose from the floor at center stage. Transparent curtains that doubled as projection screens lowered from the ceiling and surrounded the stage on all sides as Underwood launched into “Southbound.” She kept the pace up through the early portion of the show, unleashing some of her most high-energy, singable jams like “Cowboy Casanova,” “Good Girl” and “Last Name”—sampling through various eras of her catalog. Underwood slowed the pace for her pop-influenced country slow jam “Backsliding.”
While she’s made her name in the world of crossover country, Underwood has always been a modern alt-rocker at heart, and that influence came out onstage. The guitars went up just a little bit louder, the bass drum rung out a little deeper and Underwood stalked the stage with the prowess of rock heroes from yesteryear.
Underwood re-emerged equipped with an electric guitar as industrial-styled mechanical risers lifted her and her band high above the already-elevated stage. She powered through the dynamic “Church Bells” and “Two Black Cadillacs,” two of her most dramatic thumpers.
Underwood’s powerhouse vocals have always been a given, even from the earliest days on American Idol; it was always clear that her top flight pipes could stand toe to toe with the best in the business. But with time and experience, Underwood’s stage presence has developed to match her singing. Underwood demonstrated an onstage swagger and a dynamic range of emotions from fun kiss-off jams to dramatic art rock, solemn and mournful ballads. Underwood even transformed Oracle into a smokey jazz cabaret, performing on a long red couch on “Drinking Alone.”
Also new on this current iteration of Underwood’s live show was her stint as a multi-instrumentalist. At various points Underwood strapped on acoustic and electric guitars, sat down behind a piano and even took on a percussive breakdown playing a djembe hand drum on the rhythmic acoustic jam “End Up with You.”
Underwood moved into the more country-influenced material with the folky rocker “Flat on the Floor” and “Wasted” before combining some of her more soaring vocal moments in a show-stopping medley including “Temporary Home,” “See You Again,” the other-worldly “I Know You Won’t” and a mash-up of “Just A Dream” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On” (including the high notes). Underwood exhaled after getting through the challenging vocal, seemingly still surprised by her own strength.
Underwood went back to the beginning with her debut single “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” a song the large Oakland crowd sang with the same passion and fervor as when it was first released, before closing out the portion of her set enveloped in a cloud of smoke to the rhythmic heartbeat of “Something in the Water.”
Runaway June and Maddie & Tae, who opened the show, returned for to perform a medley honoring some of the female country greats that paved the way for their careers, including Dolly Parton, Trisha Yearwood and Shania Twain. It was a fun moment for the younger acts, who were undoubtably influenced by Underwood as well.
Underwood then brought a fan up on the empowering jam “The Champion” to rap Ludacris’ guest verse and swing the final chorus with her. The fan, from Monterey, nailed a note-perfect performance that surprised even Underwood.
The main set ended with two of Underwood’s biggest singalong hits, the bouncy rockers “Undo It” and “Before He Cheats,” the latter featuring some pyrotechnic flair.
Underwood returned to the stage in her trademark ‘Cry Pretty’ eye make-up to perform that song at center stage under a hanging display of reflective beads. A kaleidoscope of laser lights covered the room as Underwood again rose into the air to finish with “Love Wins” on the positive high-note.
Country duo Maddie & Tae preceded Underwood with a high-flying set of pop-influenced country singalong jams. The duo excelled at working the vast stage, which can sometimes offer a challenge to opening acts. The set was upbeat, varied and had tight vocal harmonies. The two even mixed in a few covers, including Charlie Puth’s “Attention,” before closing out with the infectious “Girl in a Country Song.”
Nashville vocal trio Runaway June opened the concert.
Follow writer Mike DeWald at Twitter.com/mike_dewald.