So, this was quite the experience. I have been listening to Carrie Underwood since I was a teenager and never had the chance to see her perform live. Admittingly that’s because she’s never really done an extensive UK tour and I have never had the opportunity to go to America. Anyway, when I saw the opportunity to see Carrie live in Manchester, I knew I had to go. Just for the sake of my teenage fan-crush that I’ve had for years now. Let me tell you, she did not disappoint. The pure spectacle of the show was overwhelming and the crowd was more then enthusiastic to see her perform. When I arrived at the arena and spoke to the other eager fans ready and rearing for the show to start, it really felt like an event. This was Carrie’s first ever performance in Manchester and I pray that it’s not her last. It doesn’t appear that the show sold spectacularly well, sadly, the entire back of the venue was tarped off as people were moved closer to the stage, yet, the people that were there were loud and provided a genuinely enthusiastic atmosphere.
Opening the show were the flag-wavers for British country music, The Shires. Now, I have seen them before and they always manage to provide one hell of a show. Even in this condensed, acoustic support slot, the made the most of every second that they were on stage. Crissie and Ben harmonies sounded so sweet, but when they got their own times to shine in the set they really went for the gusto and sold every song. By the time they were performing “Nashville Grey Skies” (a song about playing country music in Britain) the crowd were on their feet and singing along to the songs. Even it was just the whoos and whoas or general cheering. It made their set feel alive. They also had their slow moments for the set playing emotional ballads like “Daddies Little Girl” and “State Lines”. This is fine, I like when support acts have the breathing room to show off their full range of tones. They quickly brought it back to the upbeat energy-filled songs to lift the crowd’s enthusiasm for the night ahead. Performing a cover of “Islands in the Stream”, in which they got the crowd light up the arena with mobile phone torches and lighters, also the crowd sung along to this one as it’s one of the most well-known pop songs to ever hit the charts. Capping off the set with their songs “Tonight” and “A Thousand Hallelujahs”, which definitely brought the energy back to the venue and got the crowd ready for Miss Underwood. Another fantastic set from The Shires, maybe not their full sound, but even with their acoustic sets, they still manage to bring so much emotion to their songs and deliver that to the audience.
The crowd were ready as Carrie Underwood hit the stage for her first ever show in Manchester. Opening on the new single “Southbound” and the ever-popular “Cowboy Cassanova”, with that, she immediately injected so much energy into the crowd. After an acoustic set started the night, now have a full band kick into gear was awesome. It really gave Carrie this larger than life sound as the full backing band consisted of 3 guitars, 2 violins, a steel guitar, a banjo, backing vocals, bass, keys and drums and all of those components were mixed into some point of the set. Then, on top of it all, you have Carrie’s immaculate vocal performance. Which was so damn good, not a note missed all night. Her vocals soared through the arena and it was all just so glorious. Also, just a break to mention how spectacular Carrie looked. I mean, wow she was stunning, and really presented herself in the best way. The show was paced quite well too, nothing went on too long and Carrie kept the set moving well. There were times to fire a few songs then she would break to talk to the crowd. She was incredibly earnest and everything she said felt very genuine.
The set was a solid mix of older hits and newer songs from the recent record Cry Pretty. The newer songs got a decent reaction from the fans. However, whenever one of the older songs started to play the crowd went nuts and sang along to every word. Especially during the hits “Jesus, Take The Wheel” and “Something In The Water”. When she sang “Jesus, Take The Wheel” my heart swooned as this song means a lot to me. Even though I’m not a christian, it’s an incredibly powerful and emotional song that Carrie sang with such gusto that I couldn’t help but be caught up in the moment. That’s not to say that the newer songs didn’t have their moments, songs like “Drinking Alone” and “The Bullet” feeling like huge moments of the set. However, nothing prepared me for the song “The Champion” were Carrie brought a young fan, by the name of Megan, on stage to perform this song with her. I have to say she was excellent and performed the rap verse really well.
This show was one of the best shows I have ever been to, with one of the best vocal performances I have ever heard. This was such an incredible show that was excellent on every level. The support act was awesome, the crowd was enthusiastic, Carrie’s band sound excellent and Carrie herself was flawless. Ending the show on the new songs “Cry Pretty” and “Love Wins” was an epic way to sign out. Seeing the crowd out on the triumphant and uplifting song “Love Wins”. Overall, a great night and another checked off show on my concert bucket list. What more could I have asked for?
Words by Mick Birchall