Carrie Underwood burst onto the country scene with her victory in season four of American Idol way back in 2005. Since then she’s become one of the biggest acts in the genre, with over 65 million records sold, all six of her albums topping the Billboard Country charts and 14 number one singles under her belt. After taking time out to have her second child, Underwood is back on the road with her Cry Pretty Tour (in support of her album of the same name), including six UK dates culminating at Wembley Arena last night.
It’s been three years since Underwood performed in the UK – her last appearance here was at C2C back in 2016 – so it’s safe to say expectations were high for her set. After arriving on stage to Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Paradise City, she kicked things off with current single Southbound. It’s an upbeat, summery track with and definitely got the party started, with the crowd singing along to every word throughout. Underwood sounded fantastic from the first note, with great belt and control in her full voice. The audience burst into cheers and whistles as she finished the song and that set the template for the rest of the night.
What followed was a performance which saw Underwood take on songs from across her previous albums, as well as mixing in a couple of cover versions (more on those later). She kept the energy up in the early part of the set, encouraging the crowd to join in on the rocky Cowboy Casanova with its quick lyrical delivery – where she hit the first of many huge notes of the night – and to clap along on Good Girl with its big chorus. I also loved seeing how much fun she was having performing, particularly during Last Name when she could be seen moving around on stage and jamming with her band, and when she cracked jokes and chatted to the crowd about everything from making her current album to getting her start on American Idol
That said, there was plenty of opportunity for Underwood to showcase her newer material too. Drinking Alone had a jazzy, sultry vibe that put me in mind of George Michael’s Careless Whisper, whilst the song brought out the soulful side of Underwood’s voice as she embodied the song’s central character of a lonely woman trying to forget a past relationship. Meanwhile, the sparse, bluesy End Up With You mixed a tropical beat with sunny, playful vibes, and Low gave Underwood a chance to show off the husky tones in her voice over an acoustic intro before bursting into a wave of rocky guitars and drums.
One of my favourite parts of the set was the storytelling section, which formed the main body of Underwood’s performance. She opened the section with a stomping rendition of Church Bells (which saw her busting out her guitar-playing skills on the outro), before delivering a dramatic, piano-led version of Two Black Cadillacs which featured a huge note at the end. Blown Away allowed her to show off some impressive vocal runs, and she also highlighted her range of musical influences in an 80s-influenced take on Flat On The Floor and her passionate, fiddle-driven performance of the bittersweet Wasted. For me Underwood is at her absolute best on these ‘story’ songs and her distinctive, powerful voice gives her a great ability to channel so many different characters and make them completely come to life.
However, many of the standout moments came in the slower songs. Jesus Take The Wheel was full of conviction, whilst The Bullet highlighted the clarity in Underwood’s voice and it was clear she found the song very emotional to perform. There was also a fantastic medley which started off with the moving yet hopeful Temporary Home, before segueing into a soaring version of See You Again. Underwood asked the crowd to put their lights on during the song and it created an absolutely magical atmosphere that I’m not ashamed to say made me well up a bit. She then hit an incredible note during I Know You Won’t, before finishing on Just A Dream mixed with Aerosmith’s Dream On. Underwood has a real knack for covering these types of classic 80s rock songs and I thought she sounded absolutely fantastic, particularly as she went for it at the end of the song.
Underwood drew the show to a close with a sassy, swaggering version of Undo It, combined with George Michael’s Freedom, before bringing audience member Lois out to join her on the defiant The Champion. She then encouraged the crowd to sing along with her on signature hit, the honky-tonk-influenced Before He Cheats. They responded with gusto, singing along at the tops of their voices – as they had been all night – and practically lifting the roof off Wembley Arena!
For her encore, Underwood performed her two previous singles from Cry Pretty. She started with the title track, and her controlled delivery on the verses gave it some serious emotional clout before building into the full-blown chorus. Her range is absolutely fantastic and she looked exhilarated as she brought the song to a close with her biggest note of the night, to thunderous roars from the crowd. Love Wins followed and it was a great ending that showed off what she does best – big heartfelt ballads which let her show off her incredible vocals as the song built to a crescendo, sounding as fresh as she had when she stepped on the stage an hour and a half earlier. The audience burst into huge cheers and applause when she finished and I think they would have happily watched her for another hour at least.
Last night proved to be a triumphant return to London for Carrie Underwood and showed why she’s considered the queen of modern country. In a jam-packed performance full of hits, she showcased her outstanding vocal range and power, as well as having a commanding stage presence and great energy throughout. As she left the stage after her encore, she promised to come back soon, and I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t the only one hoping that’s sooner rather than later.
Set list: 1. Southbound 2. Cowboy Casanova 3. Good Girl 4. Last Name 5. Church Bells 6. Two Black Cadillacs 7. Blown Away 8. Drinking Alone 9. End Up With You 10. Flat On The Floor 11. Wasted 12. Temporary Home/See You Again/I Know You Won’t/Just A Dream/Dream On (Aerosmith cover) 13. Jesus Take The Wheel 14. The Bullet 15. Something In The Water/Amazing Grace 16. Low 17. Undo It/Freedom (Wham! cover) 18. The Champion 19. Before He Cheats 20. Cry Pretty 21. Love Wins Performance date: 4th July 2019