Carrie Underwood rocks Target Center but insists she’s still country

“In case you didn’t know, we’re at a country music concert,” said Carrie Underwood, the uncrowned Queen of Modern Country, half an hour into her performance Tuesday night at Target Center.

God damn it, could have fooled me. After the loud rockers and loud ballads, it was too shrill. As the “American Idol”-turned-Nashville darling had turned into a screaming rock ‘n’ roll vixen auditioning for a Guns N’ Roses tribute band.

Then, finally, for his eighth song, Underwood pointed out that his band is so country that they have two fiddlers. Additionally, she said she pulled out campaign paraphernalia (her words), including a cowgirl hat, a long coat with a long fringe, and a glass of red wine. And she explained that she thought of Dolly Parton and “Jolene” when she wrote the next song.

Well, I would be if “She Don’t Know” wasn’t a perfect Dollyesque tune, a dark, bluegrassy growl about the other woman who will end up burned by him like she was. I guess Underwood is still country. She proved it again later on the acoustic selection “Garden”, a lovely ballad about kindness, as in “you reap what you sow, what kind of garden would you cultivate”.

These two new numbers come from this year’s “Denim & Rhinestones” album, which mostly suggests that Underwood now aspires to be Shania Twain, not Axl Rose. Perhaps that explains why the album wasn’t his usual bestseller and why the upper level of the Target Center was half full on a school night.

About a third of Tuesday’s show was devoted to material from the new album. And Underwood’s staging reflected the Denim & Rhinestones Tour theme, with diamond shapes on stage and on the catwalk as well as a succession of outfits dripping with rhinestones.

The 110-minute presentation allowed the country superstar to prove that she is more than a volcanic singer, a glittering fashionista and an entertainer who loves performing. The vocal gymnast is apparently a budding gymnast of a different kind. She rode on a swing above the crowd to a satellite stage (during “Ghost Story”) and returned later (during “Crazy Angels”) via a globe-shaped cage, straddling the frame like a aerial acrobat. Do not worry. Underwood wouldn’t be confused with Pink’s convertible, pop’s ultimate aerial daredevil who somersaults above the crowd while singing.

Admittedly, the evening was not entirely vocal. Underwood delivered nuanced vocals to the gospel medley of “Jesus, Take the Wheel,” his breakthrough 2005 hit, and the anthem “How Great Thou Art.” And the “Denim & Rhinestones” tune, featuring opening act Jimmie Allen singing and dancing with Underwood, was relatively low-key.

But the 39-year-old Oklahoman will rock you. She slammed drums on the heartbreaking new track “Poor Everybody Else,” belted out the exuberant “Last Name” and shouted out the ultimate penultimate track, “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses.

Allen, a late debutant who is only two years younger than Underwood, showed why he is CMA’s best new reigning artist. Apparently thinking it was the lamé-and-rhinestone tour, the colorful Delaware native showed remarkable style on stage, dancing like Michael Jackson (tricks and sidewalking on the moon), autographing his tank top before throwing him into the crowd and sharing details about his two days in Minneapolis (he went to the Timberwolves game and said they unfortunately played like a high school team, and he had his baby cart stolen by a homeless man outside his tour bus, but he picked it up and gave the man some money). Allen displayed an appealing voice but his presence was stronger than his songs.

Toya J. Bell