Carrie comes to town

Josh Rouse

For the Kansas Expocentre, a nearly packed house is almost unheard of.

On Tuesday, when Little Big Town and Carrie Underwood came to Topeka, the trend of underachieving crowd support was snapped like a twig.

The stage was set at the north end of Landon Arena, with a catwalk jutting into the audience on the floor. Peering around the arena, it looked as though most of the seats in the stands had been filled, except for the upper corners. However, taking into account the masses who sat floor level where the Koyotes and RoadRunners usually play, there were undoubtedly enough people in attendance to fill the rest of the seats.

Little Big Town started off the night, bolstering in my opinion a much louder reception than they received at Country Stampede in June. The crowd sang along with many of their more well-known tunes, and even some of the ones that didn’t receive any radio airtime. Keeping in mind that the majority of the crowd was likely made up of junior high school girls and their mothers, it makes sense that the lyrics of the half-female foursome were so well-known around the crowd.

That’s not to say that the band was getting more credit than they deserved. I’ve long believed that Little Big Town is the next big thing to come in country music, and that they are nowhere near their potential. The band had a very solid performance and kept the crowd energized. As Karen Fairchild said while riling up the audience “We’re here to warm you up for Carrie Underwood!”

Guitarist/vocalist Phillip Sweet also had his moments in the limelight, getting a few vocal solos and getting up close to the audience, stage right. However, it was Jimi Westbrook’s drawn out introduction to “Boondocks” at the end of their performance that really fired up the crowd. When he roared “I FEEL NO SHAME…” the entire crowd was up on their feet, anticipating the continuation of the band’s first big hit.

After a brief moment of inactivity while the stage was being set up, a clock appeared on the screen behind stage, a five minute countdown until Carrie Underwood appeared on stage. As the minutes dropped one by one, the crowd got anxious and started chanting for Carrie. During the downtime, a Carrie Underwood look-alike tried to get on stage with Carrie, but failed. Great, I thought to myself, if she can’t get on stage then how am I going to get up there to propose to Carrie?

When she finally made her Topeka debut, she came in from a hole in the back of the stage and came down a flight of stairs toward the front of the stage. The All-American girl connected with the audience, even pulling another All-American girl up on stage to sing with her, though the youngster was a little shy on stage. To ease the child’s mind about remembering the lyrics, Underwood joked “I just make stuff up when I’m up here.”

The show wasn’t quite as action-packed as Little Big Town, but Underwood did fire up the crowd with several costume changes, including one on stage where she ripped off a flowing gown to reveal a much shorter dress. Sexy.

She also used the catwalk several times to give high-fives to the fans on the floor, and made her way to both end of the stage pretty frequently. At one point, I was about 10 feet from her, though I didn’t think it would be polite to propose in the middle of “Just A Dream.” I thought waiting for “Last Name” might be a little more appropriate.

She ended the show in perhaps the most overused way, leaving the stage for roughly a minute and then reappearing to sing a little while longer. Perhaps it’s just the fact that nearly every artist at Country Stampede does the same thing, but it’s starting to run into the ground.

Otherwise, the show was solid. She didn’t throw out all the stops like Rascal Flatts or Big & Rich, and quite frankly she didn’t need to. She’s Carrie Underwood; simplicity works.