After welcoming the prettiest man in country music Friday night, the Minnesota State Fair turned to the hottest woman in country music to headline the grandstand Saturday.
Carrie Underwood followed Keith Urban to the fair’s big stage, resulting in the third sold-out concert there in as many nights (Def Leppard and Styx kicked things off Thursday). Underwood may have been the hottest ticket of the entire 12-day lineup, too.
The Season 4 “American Idol” winner returned to the road in July after pursuing other interests, like her not-so-interesting live NBC-TV performance in “The Sound of Music,” and then becoming a mother in February. Demand for her music has not lessened one iota. Her 19th No. 1 country hit came last year, “Something in the Water,” and expectations are building for her October album, “Storyteller.”
Anticipation was such that a large chunk of the 13,000 attendees turned out early for Virginia-bred opening band Native Run, which has barely made a dent in the country charts and frankly doesn't deserve to play crowds this size.
Led by singer Rachel Beauregard and guitarist/co-vocalist Bryan Dawley, Native Run was decent enough when it followed the lovelorn country-rock style of Nashville faves the Civil Wars in such songs as “Where You Been.” But the group tried too hard to play itself up as a party-hearty rock act, taking the “warm-up act” tag too literally in “The Party Came Looking for Me.” Worst of all, Beauregard hopelessly rapped out the theme to the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” before an ultra-bleached cover of TLC’s “Waterfalls.”
Underwood hit the stage in no-nonsense, hear-me-soar fashion with the urgent title track to her last all-new album, 2012’s “Blown Away.” And she really didn’t let up on the passion or drama through the first three songs, also including “Two Black Cadillacs” and “Wasted.”
After so many big local concerts of late with male country singers hitting all the trite notes of macho bro-twang, it was refreshing to hear her turn more serious and heartfelt. And her cover by a hitmaking countryman of yesteryear, Randy Travis' "I Told You So," was one of the tender highlights of the show.
So it was extra disappointing when she eventually followed the rowdy bro-twang mold. It sounded like she was back covering Aerosmith on “American Idol” when she sang “Undo It.” “Good Girl” and “Cowboy Cassanova” sounded like pandering to the festive atmosphere, too.
Still, Underwood did not need to try too hard to sell herself as a top-tier act in mainstream country. She has come a long way in a short time, one that’s especially impressive compared to every “Idol” winner besides Kelly Clarkson.
“This year is my 10th anniversary of trying out for ‘American Idol,’ ” she pointed out before “Little Toy Guns,” a new song on her greatest-hits album last year.
That she already has enough hits to fill an anthology is impressive, and the crowd certainly knew and loved the ones that came later in the show, including “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” “All-American Girl," the pre-encore finale "Last Name" and the big, sassy finish “Before He Cheats.” She also fared well singing “Smoke Break” for the first time on tour, the fast-rising single from her upcoming album.
A few more tracks from the new record actually would have been nice, but after Saturday’s performance it was quite clear we’ll be seeing plenty more of Underwood.
Here's Carrie's set list from Saturday:
Blown Away / Two Black Cadillacs / Wasted / Undo It / I Told You So (Randy Travis cover) / Good Girl / Little Toy Guns / Cowboy Casanova / Don't Forget to Remember Me (unplugged) / Leave Love Alone / Flat on the Floor See You Again / See You Again (with snippet of Wiz Khalifa’s song of same name) / So Small / Smoke Break / Jesus, Take the Wheel / Some Hearts (Marshall Crenshaw cover) / All-American Girl / Cupid's Got a Shotgun / Last Name
ENCORE: Something in the Water / Before He Cheats