Carrie Underwood and Brad Paisley did not announce their return as hosts of the CMA Awards, but they did prove they still have that same magic on Wednesday night (March 1).
The two friends exchanged punchlines and tossed a few barbs at the current hosting duo during Paisley’s surprise cameo at Underwood’s Denim & Rhinestones Tour stop in Nashville. November will mark five years since they last hosted, and this brief reunion felt better than good.
It felt right.
“Well, this ain’t an awards show / But here we are, me and you,” Paisley sings as he begins what the Bridgestone Arena audience instantly recognizes as another of their parody songs. We won’t spoil the good-natured dig at Luke Bryan and Peyton Manning. Watch for yourself:
Look who’s back! @BradPaisley and @carrieunderwood together again. And still hilarious 😂 pic.twitter.com/JBgRRNnyaz
— Taste of Country (@TasteOfCountry) March 2, 2023
This song and an acoustic duet of “Remind Me” — a chart-topper from 2011 — were part of a six-song set on a secondary stage, midway through Underwood’s homecoming. It wasn’t the only deviation from her static set list. Instead of performing “If I Didn’t Love You” to a track of Jason Aldean (or just by herself), the man himself was there to thrill the crowd.
Paisley’s appearance brought louder screams, however, although maybe not the loudest screams during a two-hour-plus set.
The Denim & Rhinestones Tour is a more traditional tour than Underwood fans have experienced in the past. For starters, she is no longer performing in the round, but this stage was hardly a trailer bed. Two expansive wings brought her within feet of fans in the lower bowl, while a diamond-shaped catwalk put her about where the face-off circle would be for Nashville Predators games.
Beyond that, there are fewer theatrics on this tour (as is true for all tours in 2022-23), which means more focus on Underwood and a band that gets better with every major tour and residency. “Good Girl” led a trio of catalog hits to open her show before she performed “Hate My Heart,” a song that plays great live. The singer looked focused and in charge as she just crushed the big notes during “Church Bells.”
Later, her storytelling before songs like “She Don’t Know” felt comfortable and sincere, thus making her fans feel part of the show. It was halfway over before one realized what they’d been watching was only a warmup.
There’s been a lot made of the swing that transports Underwood from main stage to side stage. Practically speaking, it solves a problem every artist encounters at Bridgestone — how do you walk through fans without being molested?
The hype and spectacular photos and video shared ahead of time paid off. It’s a true spectacle used in two different ways during “Ghost Story” and “Crazy Angels.” This photo taken at the 2023 American Music Awards shows the second apparatus she soars within:
Once back to the main stage, perhaps buoyed by how well her improv with Paisley went over, Underwood seemed to relax and live in the moment. Opening act Jimmie Allen returned to sing “Denim & Rhinestones” and they both danced up and down a catwalk capable of shooting flames.
“Flat on the Floor” led into “Poor Everybody Else,” a song that featured Underwood on her own drum kit — seriously, when does this woman have time to learn all these new instruments?
Carrie Underwood’s drum solo during “Poor Everybody Else.”
I really can’t think of another country entertainer who learns new instruments from scratch after scoring a few hits. Is fiddle next? pic.twitter.com/DuHrKjH9DE
— Billy Dukes (@billydukes) March 2, 2023
“Last Name” was the second-to-last song before the encore, and it wasn’t perfect, but it was better because of that. Underwood looked and sounded like a woman caught up in the madness of playing in front of a sold-out arena. The three-song finish (“Something in the Water” followed by an encore that included “Welcome to the Jungle” and “Before He Cheats”) was untamed and breathtaking.
Seven album cuts (most from Denim & Rhinestones) helped create Underwood’s 27-song set list, plus “Ghost Story” and “Hate My Heart,” two singles that have yet to transcend like some others. This unfamiliarity created one or two flat spots, but they were quickly covered. “Cry Pretty” followed “Burn,” for example. After that, she was soaring across the arena.
After nearly 20 years doing this, Underwood doesn’t have anything left to prove, yet she maintains a dogged focus on improving. The Denim & Rhinestones Tour is not the spectacle that the Cry Pretty Tour was, but it suits an album that’s more straightforward and fun.
It suits an album that’s a bit more wild and untamed.