Return to Sons of Sylvia

Carrie Underwood belts it out at the Bowl
October 3rd, 2010, 1:37 pm ·


It usually takes a mighty big voice to fill a big place like the Hollywood Bowl, but Carrie Underwood was definitely up to the task: the third American Idol champ and her band, accompanied by the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, made a highly satisfying debut at the famous venue Saturday night.

Much of the sold-out show was devoted to the Oklahoma singer’s third album, the crossover, pop-leaning Play On, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard 200 last November and has gone on to spawn three country chart-topping singles. This was Underwood’s first live local appearance since both the release of that disc and her marriage to Ottawa Senators center Mike Fisher over the summer.

A sweeping orchestral fanfare served as an introduction at the Bowl, until the band took over and launched the 90-minute, 18-song set with a shuffling “Cowboy Casanova.” Underwood looked gorgeous and regal in a sparkly, black/gray dress, singing the upbeat song with attitude as her backing vocalists added “whoas” like a Def Leppard chorus amid feisty fiddle work.

Her image was initially projected inside a picture frame on the large screens, but the amazing stage backdrop also featured various architectural and outdoor locales, spinning slot machine reels, and at one point glowed like the ceiling at the Paris casino in Las Vegas.

The string section gave a sprightly lift to the jaunty, folksy strains of “Quitter”; hard to believe that tune was written and produced by Britney Spears collaborator Max Martin. Underwood came across a bit reedy at first but had no problem being heard over the orchestration, especially when she belted out “Wasted” and the sustained note on “I Know You Won’t,” which felt like a Disney soundtrack ballad. Having the orchestra around for musical interludes, however, was definitely a bonus whenever she dashed offstage to change outfits.

Play On found Underwood co-writing seven tracks (her most ever) and reflected growth as an artist — a maturity that was also obvious onstage, where she played piano as well as acoustic and electric (!) guitars. That last instrument was prevalent on a grittier-than-usual “Some Hearts,” for which Underwood strummed quite a bit as a bandmate indulged a rocking solo.

One of those personally penned numbers, “Temporary Home,” is about homelessness, and before an emotional vocal delivery, the singer was gracious, noting how thankful she was for all her success. “If you take something away from this song,” she told the crowd, “we’ve all done our jobs.”

She then turned up the sex appeal for the sassy, contemporary country pop of “Undo It,” as the backdrop displayed the singer in black-and-white fashion-model clips from the accompanying music video. But, returning to more serious terrain, the moving “Jesus Take the Wheel” saw Underwood looking skyward and segueing into the old spiritual “How Great Thou Art.” Nicely accented by stately orchestration and almost sounding Broadway-esque, the song received a lengthy standing ovation from the crowd and left Underwood all teary-eyed.

Opening act Sons of Sylvia reprised their guest spot on Underwood’s latest release for a stripped-down “What Can I Say.” The trio was front and center on guitars with their friend and supporter as she shifted back and forth in the majestic, dramatic duet with SOS leader Ashley Clark. The poverty ballad “Change” and parental assurance tune “Mama’s Song” were both warm and inviting, though a tribute to the Grand Ole Opry on Underwood’s No. 1 cover of Randy Travis‘ “I Told You So” was even more so.

Why was that? The country veteran himself strolled onstage unannounced to serve as another Underwood duet partner, adding further excitement to the proceedings. Pop/rock guitarist Orianthi also turned up amid a fun and fierce version of “Last Name.” But fireworks plus orchestration muted the usually fiery “Before He Cheats” and set closer “Songs Like This,” including a barely audible snatch of Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It).”

Second warm-up act Billy Currington often recalled a young Mac Davis at the Bowl. No slouch in the country chart-topper department, the easygoing Georgia native included all five of them in an engaging 35-minute performance that left fans wanting more.

The hunky singer just put out Enjoy Yourself, an album with a relaxed vibe and songs about the simple life (fishing, imbibing, canine companions, etc.). His recent No. 1 smash, the ode to slackerdom “Pretty Good at Drinkin’ Beer,” went down well live, as did the punchy, sax-driven “Love Done Gone.” Ladies in cowboy hats were charmed by the sensual ballad “Must Be Doin’ Somethin’ Right” and the humorous “People Are Crazy.” Yet faster, twangy selections like “That’s How Country Boys Roll” and “Why Why Why” had a more energizing effect on concert-goers.

Sons of Sylvia, previously known as the Clark Brothers, won a recording contract on Fox’s short-lived 2007 reality show The Next Great American Band, yet their solid major-label bow, Revelation, only came out a couple months ago. Despite judicious use of dobro, lap steel and fiddle (think John Mellencamp’s Lonesome Jubilee), the disc leans in a more rock and contemporary pop direction. One of the guys also was in an early Underwood backing band, and she has took SOS out on a cross-country concert trek this past spring.

Augmented by a drummer and bassist, Sons of Sylvia kicked off its half-hour with a surprising cover: Led Zeppelin’s “Rock and Roll.” Ashley Clark stomped around the stage, then wildly yelped and crooned like Elvis Presley. Highlights included the yearning “Give Me Love,” the album title track (a mandolin-dominated true story that name-checks John Lennon), a quick bluegrass number showcasing the siblings’ instrumental prowess, and the heartfelt single “Love Left to Lose” (first debuted on American Idol and co-written by their cousin, Ryan Tedder of OneRepublic). Definitely one to watch.