It’s great to have the opportunity to see young artists hitting their stride at the right moment. Better yet, it’s great so see young artists re-invent a music genre and take it to new levels. You feel a connection to the audience that you don’t feel with older, more seasoned acts.
With Carrie Underwood’s “Play On” tour, you get that opportunity. While we all know the story of the most famous blonde from Checotah, I had no idea who her opening acts were and, while that initially gave me a bit of pause I wound up pleasantly surprised. Particularly with the first band up, Sons Of Sylvia.
Taking the stage to a rollicking version of Led Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll”, the trio of Ashley, Adam and Austin Clarke set the tone of the evening early by offering a edgy sound that blended the influences of country music with more mainstream rock. When I heard their music for the first time I compared their sound to that of Rascal Flatts but they were somehow different.
Their set was fantastic. It’s easy to see that these guys are poised to break very large in the music world. They moved through a way too brief set including the title track to their debut album “Revelation”, and “I’ll Know You”, among others. In the middle, the guys did “what they did when they were at home” and took off on a bluegrass picking instrumental number that really sounded a little out of place, but in thinking about it afterward it was good to hear them give a nod to their roots in music. The band finished with a version of their first single “Love Left to Lose”, and gave way to Billy Currington.
Here, the show took an older turn. That’s not a bad thing, because Billy Currington played to a more traditionally country music crowd while still keeping the rock edge to the show. His appeal, it was clear, was to the ‘band in the bar’ crowd and that theme resonated through his songs. What was notable about Currington’s set was that his music had a wry sense of humor, best illustrated in the song People are Crazy: “God is great, beer is good, people are crazy.”.
His set was short too, but it offered an excellent sampling of his music, like “Pretty Good at Drinking Beer” off his newest album Enjoy Yourself that was released in May, and “Must be Doin’ Something Right”. He made room for the night’s headliner, the recently married American Idol ingénue, Carrie Underwood.
This was her show, and it is abundantly clear that she has moved well beyond her days when she was a fresh-faced contestant on the Idol program. Elaborate staging and several costume changes did not detract or overshadow Underwood’s singing, which sometimes happens when an artist’s show is at the degree hers was/ The show incorporated a flywheel at center stage that raised and lowered, a swing that descended from the rafters during one of her songs. She belted out John Denver’s “Take Me Home Country Roads” while flying over the crowd aboard a pickup truck to symbolize her years of singing at festivals all over Oklahoma before her big break.
For all of it’s Las Vegas glitz and flash, the show lacked a lot of improvisation. Al lot of that could be attributed to the fact that it was such an intricate show, but beyond three or four times when she took a break to chat with the crowd it seemed bigger than her, in a way. I was comforted to know that she sung before a band without 20 dancers hopping about like fools behind her.
It was a great show from start to finish. Young country-rock music is on the rise, and while they have a pedal-steel guitar and a dobro in the band, don’t consign them to the Hee Haw crowd right away, give them a listen. Like with Sons Of Sylvia they might just surprise you. They sure did with me.