Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
arrie Underwood may have been off the road for three years, during which time she had two boys and did not release an album until "Cry Pretty" 13 months ago, but the most successful American Idol contestant has lost none of her vocal luster to say the least in her Cry Pretty 360 Tour.
First and foremost, Underwood remains one tremendous singer in the live setting. She makes it seem effortless, as if it's no problem hitting high note after high note or pouring her heart into the material. "Last Name" was a particular standout.
She didn't need go into overdrive to prove her vocal mettle either. She was equally comfortable with ballads such as an emotional reading of "Temporary Home" and the very heartfelt "See You Again" during which Underwood played piano. She also got positioned the song well, saying she had met two young girls backstage (Underwood's audience definitely leans heavily female) who had lost their mothers.
Underwood went into a jazzy vibe on "Drinking Alone" with a sax player helping out .
There was a spiritual and religious theme to large portions of Underwood's two-hour show, which took place in an oblong, center arena staging. It's obvious with songs such as "Jesus Take the Wheel," which retains its freshness 14 years later.
Underwood was also unabashed in her belief about the afterlife in one of her chats with the crowd (she has no doubt that we all will see our deceased loved ones in the future).
Underwood split the difference between ballad and rocker admirably in "Just a Dream" with a snippet of hometown boys Aerosmith's "Dream On" and back to "Just a Dream." Too bad Steven Tyler wasn't up there with Underwood. That would have been vocal nirvana.
Underwood, of course, is considered a country singer, but that tended to be in very very short supply until about mid-way through when fiddle and banjo became a bit more prominent sonically.
But the country vibe was never more clear than when she launched into a medley of songs from female performers, who influenced her. That started with "Stand By Your Man" and included "Walking After Midnight," "Coal Miner's Daughter" and "9 to 5" from the touchstones of women's country - Tammy Wynette, Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton and continued with modern country acts such as Trisha Yearwood, Faith Hill, Martina McBride, Reba McEntire and Shania Twain.
And with an emphasis on women in country, Underwood included show openers Runaway June and Maddie and Tae to help her out, a nice gesture from Underwood.
She also included a local resident, Kevin, who came to Boston from South Africa about a decade ago not knowing any English and learned English from listening to Eminem. Underwood clearly appreciated the humor in telling that vignette. So part way through "The Champion," a song that took on a life of its own beyond the sports arena, according to Underwood, Kevin came out and did his thing.
Underwood disappeared for a few minutes every so often, but it should have come as no surprise that she spent the time changing into a new outfit. That's part of the shtick.
While there was a lot to commend about the show, the staging didn't entirely work. It was great when the particular act was in front of you, but for chunks of the night, they were on the other side of the oblong or far away at an end and may have had their back to you. Not an ideal way to take in a concert.
For Maddie & Tae and Runaway June, their bands were stationary and sometimes at the opposite end of where they stood. For Underwood, at times, she was right there with her mates, or sometimes they walked around with her.
So, perhaps this wasn't the perfect concert in that respect. But when came to the art of singing, there's scarcely anyone better on stage than Underwood.
Maddie and Tae hit pay dirt early on in their career with the song that closed out the night, "Girl in a Country Song," but they are far more than that. Maddie Marlow (she's the blonde one) takes the lead vocals with Tae Dye helping out with vocal harmonies. That was the case in all eight songs with the exquisite "Fly," "Die From a Broken Heart" and a strong cover of Diamond Rio's "Meet in the Middle" especially making that clear.
In the arena setting, they went for a bigger sound with a modern country feel, although they retained a country vibe throughout. As evidenced yet again, Maddie & Tae are most deserving of bigger things.
Runaway June was a perfect complement to Maddie & Tae and Underwood. A trio with one semi-hit under its belt, "Buy My Own Drinks," (it sounds like something Maddie & Tae would sing) the focus was squarely on lead singer Naomi Cooke. She provided a strong vocal presence during a 25- minute set, which felt a bit too short. They deserved a lot of credit for going far more traditional than pop with their take on Dwight Yoakam's "Fast As You." Maybe it wasn't as good as Yoakam, but they did the song justice in setting the table for what would be a worthy night of women in country.