There aren’t too many artists in the industry who have achieved the level of success of Carrie Underwood. The multi-Grammy winning country pop phenomenon stopped in San Diego, California at the Pechanga Arena this past Tuesday, Sept. 10. The show officially ended the mini-hiatus Underwood took this summer and marked the kick-off to the second North American leg of her Cry Pretty Tour 360, which commenced this past Spring.
True to its name, fans were treated to a 360-degree “in the round” stage design, which Underwood utilized every inch of throughout the show's duration. Performing in the round can be tedious because it’s functionally supposed to give each audience member a unique view without sacrificing any part of the experience. This concept was executed fairly well for the most part, as several numbers took place on lifts stationed throughout the stage design. Among these included "Last Name," "Flat On the Floor," "Two Black Cadillacs," and "Something in the Water." The caveat to the design (and less due to the in the round setup), however, comes at the expense of those on the general admission floor due to the stage's overall height. Though this effectively put Underwood at eye level with those in the upper sections, it left something to be desired for those in the surrounding standing areas.
From the opening number, “Southbound,” off the tour’s supported release Cry Pretty, there’s no question that fans were about to be treated to an enthralling experience over the next two hours. The crowd released a near-deafening roar as Underwood materialized in a dazzling, purple-sequined ensemble on a hydraulic lift equipped with pyrotechnics. "It's good to be back on the road, San Diego. Thank you for having us!" the "Good Girl" songstress expressed before launching into "Backsliding."
Underwood took a few moments to address her audience and reminisce on her journey to musical stardom, balancing the wildly successful country superstar with the down-to-earth, small-town girl that grew up in Checotah, Oklahoma. It somewhat was reflected in Underwood's stage presence when she would banter between songs. “It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since I auditioned for American Idol. Every single day of my life, I have people come up to me saying they voted for me or they watched me. [For that,] thank you—because I am not the type of person to go out and do something like that. I have no idea what I thought was going to happen, and because of it, we’ve gotten to go travel to the some of the coolest places, meet some of the nicest people and play the music that we love,” she explained.
Underwood’s discography spans nearly 15 years of content, so it’s evident that fitting every successful single into one setlist is unattainable. Enter the medleys, which Underwood described herself as “a walk down memory lane,” that showcased earlier gems like “Temporary Home,” “I Know You Won’t,” “See You Again,” and “Just a Dream.” Underwood's breakthrough single, “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” remains a staple in her long-standing catalog and live performances and was given a “Stairway to Heaven”-inspired treatment. Given the tour's purpose to highlight Underwood's most recent effort, she nearly managed to perform the album in its entirety. To the surprise of many, was the omission of "Spinning Bottles"—a powerful, well-received ballad that Underwood has only performed once in the past year at an award ceremony, which fans were sure would make it. Among those that did, the bongo-infused "End Up With You" and the sultry "Drinking Alone" put a spotlight on Underwood's impressive instrumental expertise.
Perhaps the most interactive moment ensued with “The Champion,” a song that Underwood chose to include due to its significant impact on those who identified with it through their struggles. "This song has sort of taken on a life of its own. We were just writing a song for football and had no idea how this would take off," she spoke of the Super Bowl penned track. Before the tour, Underwood released a video contest for those who could deliver Ludacris' rapping portion effortlessly. One lucky fan from each city would be selected to join her onstage to perform the verse. For the San Diego stop, Underwood chose a cancer survivor from Livermore, California, who, for lack of a better term, nailed it. Another highlight included Underwood’s tribute to the pioneering women of country music, where she was joined by supporting acts Runaway June and Maddie & Tae towards the latter half of the show. After breezing through a few more fan favorites ("Undo It," "Before He Cheats"), Underwood graced the crowd one last time to perform the album's title track, just before closing out with a rainbow confetti-filled encore for "Love Wins."
While she made her rounds through each performance, it should be noted that Underwood spent an immense amount of time in the center and on the side of the stage where her band members were posted, usually facing the adjacent audience. We could understand some attendees feeling disconnected and frustrated due to having her back turned from their perspective. If you're attending, research to make sure your view isn’t as obstructed as some others. Regardless of which seat you choose, you’re going to miss a few things—but that’s where the multiple video screens along the perimeter of the stage come into play.
In some cases, artists who deliver on production are often compensating for other aspects, such as the vocal or musical ability. That’s not the condition here, as you’re instantly immersed into an audibly and visually-pleasing experience. Underwood is known for her exceptional and consistent vocal performance, a feat that landed her the winning spot on the fourth season of American Idol back in 2005. After 15 years on the music scene, she still managed to produce effortless belts and high notes in a captivating way only she can.
Underwood’s Cry Pretty Tour 360 runs through the end of October, concluding in Detroit, Michigan. Tickets can be purchased via Underwood’s website carrieunderwoodofficial.com and their respective ticketing partners.
Check out Carrie's video recap from San Diego!
— Carrie Underwood (@carrieunderwood) September 11, 2019