LIVE: Carrie Underwood @ the Times Union Center, 12/4/12


Blown Away

It’s the title of Carrie Underwood’s latest album.

And it’s – not coincidentally – the name of her current tour, which made a recent stop at the Times Union Center in downtown Albany.

But it also serves as a damn good review of her concert.

There were a couple of missteps along the way, but for the most part, the Season Four “American Idol” champion delivered a top-notch arena-rock performance with all of the bells and whistles that you might expect – bolstered by a couple of surprises along the way.

Along with the inaugural season winner Kelly Clarkson, Underwood has certainly become one of the two top “Idol” alums, and while her focus has been on country music, we all know that contemporary country certainly isn’t limited to twang-laced songs about drinkin’ and cheatin’ anymore.

Backed by an eight-piece band that moved all around the arena stage on magnificent, mobile, modular platforms, Underwood went through five different stage costumes during her hour and 45-minute blockbuster performance. But her vocal firepower was equal to her fashion sense, and she fired up rock sing-alongs (“Undo It”), stellar ballads (a splendid cover of Randy Travis’ “I Told You So”), contemporary gospel (“Jesus Take the Wheel”), straight-up rock anthems (“Cowboy Cassanova”) and high school homecoming rallying cries (“All American Girl”) with equal aplomb.

She managed to mix up such decidedly non-country influences as Afro-pop (“Nobody Ever Told You”) and reggae (“One Way Ticket”). And she earned big props from the crowd by dedicating the deeply emotional “Temporary Home” to the Shenendehowa/Shaker students involved in the recent fatal car accident on the Northway.

But the big photo-op moment of the night was when she and half of her band lifted off the stage and floated over the crowd (seemingly supported by a batch of gigantic Japanese lanterns) while belting out such nuggets as “Thank God for Hometowns,” “Crazy Dreams” and “Do You Think About Me,” before landing back on main-stage turf for a celebratory “One Way Ticket,” during which the crowd was bombarded with giant beach balls, Hawaiian leis and oodles of confetti.

It was, however, the final encore of “Blown Away” that really knocked the socks off the crowd, with a stunning visual display from the set and projection designers, as a faux tornado blew away the faux interior of the Midwestern farm house before our eyes. The visuals were nearly as powerful as Underwood’s vocals, and she (and her crack tech team) made sure we knew we weren’t in Kansas anymore.

The hunky Hunter Hayes – the 21-year-old winner of the Country Music Association’s New Artist of the Year trophy – revved up the crowd nicely with his opening set that featured his smash hit “Wanted,” as well as a dip into some John Mayer-esque blues (“Everybody’s Got Somebody But Me”) and a cover of Andy Grammer’s “Keep Your Head Up” tagged with a soulful coda of Bill Withers’ “Lean On Me.”

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