DULUTH, Ga. — A reality talent show winner from a small town in Oklahoma and a once-struggling musician from down under joined forces in January to embark on a co-headlining tour. One sold-out show after another led Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban to the Atlanta area on Thursday night (April 24) to begin the last weekend of their Love Pain & the Whole Crazy Carnival Ride tour.
The tour continues Friday for a second night at Duluth’s Gwinnett Center before closing Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
Kicking off Thursday’s show with a countdown on the screen followed by quick images of the “All-American Girl,” Underwood emerged onstage dressed in head-to-toe black, complete with knee-high boots. Greeting the already-standing crowd, she immediately cranked out a couple of album cuts and her big hit, “Wasted.”
Her first wardrobe change for the evening also included a flooring change. The lights went down, and Underwood reappeared high atop a pedestal in a full-length blue gown singing “Jesus, Take the Wheel.”
Talking about her childhood home in Oklahoma, the first notes of “I Ain’t in Checotah Anymore” played as she tore away the bottom half of her ballroom gown, appearing at that moment to be very Dollyesque.
It could be the months spent on the road with Urban, or maybe she’s just found her groove, but Underwood seems to have undergone a transformation to become more an entertainer-rocker chick — and less country princess — than her days on American Idol.
Her band kept the crowd entertained while she changed into her third outfit for the evening — jeans and a top. She sassied her way through “Last Name,” the current hit from her Carnival Ride album, before taking a seat on a barstool. Guitar resting on her legs, she took a moment before rolling into the next song to let the fans know how much she appreciates them.
“Thanks for putting me on the stage. I mean it. Thank you so much,” she said with tear-filled eyes. “I’ve got to start singing before I start to cry!”
The glistening eyes that she had going into “Don’t Forget to Remember Me” soon turned to tears as she attempted time and time again to get the words out. As she played her guitar, the crowd took over the singing duties, and as tears streamed down her face, the fans rose to their feet.
“OK, that’s the last of that, I promise!” Underwood laughed.
When the lights went down, she was gone and back in seconds, looking as fresh-faced as ever as she shook off the emotional tune and rolled into “Twisted,” “All-American Girl” and “So Small.”
The Urban-Underwood stage lends itself to interactive concerts. A catwalk extends off the main stage with a smaller round stage out in the middle of the crowd. And apparently there is a trap door or two where rock hits from the ’80s are kept because Underwood disappeared into the floor and emerged seconds later with a silver jacket and Guns ’N Roses’ “Paradise City.”
“Before He Cheats,” Underwood’s anthem for women who have been wronged, rounded out her performance.
Following an intermission, the lights went down and the echo of a heartbeat filled the arena. The opening notes of “Where the Blacktop Ends” began to play as a smiling, laid-back Urban emerged from behind the stage. A massive screen gave the audience an up-close look of the Aussie superstar. It’s obvious that Urban relishes his time in front of a crowd, treating them to extended guitar solos on live versions of the songs they sing along with on the radio.
His two-hour set consisted of rollercoaster-like ups and downs with Urban floating effortlessly from country superstar with happy-go-lucky anthems to a tortured artist hitting keys on his piano to a guy who likes to play straight-up rockers.
After acoustic versions of hits “Raining on Sunday” and “Stupid Boy,” he and the band took to the center stage where he quipped, “I must apologize for the view behind us.” (For the record, no one was complaining.) They gave a front-row perspective to the often neglected crowd in the back of arenas while playing “You’re My Better Half,” “Picture of Us” and “You’ll Think of Me.”
The band took its place back on the main stage as Urban broke into the Tom Petty-Stevie Nicks hit, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” Underwood, bringing her red high-heeled boots along for the party, reappeared onstage to turn the song into a duet. She worked the catwalk while Urban taught the crowd a thing or two about playing the guitar. In another collaborative effort, Urban finished out “I Told You So” with the hometown drum section from Georgia Tech.
During “You Look Good in My Shirt,” Urban sang and played his way into the crowd and gave a young woman in the audience the guitar right off his back.
Time and time again, Urban used his rock skills to rip through intros of classic rock hits like “Honky Tonk Woman,” “Back in Black” and “Sweet Home Alabama” while also breathing new life into his own music.
Working his way through his Greatest Hits album, the show came to a close with “Somebody Like You,” and the crowd immediately demanded an encore. Returning to his seat at the piano, he dedicated “Got It Right This Time” to his wife, Nicole Kidman.
Closing with “Better Life,” heart-shaped confetti blanketed the crowd. The man of the hour stood with his band to take a bow before an audience that was begging for more, ensuring once again that the Urban legend will continue.