If the original members of Guns N’ Roses ever wanted to reunite without Axl Rose, they might be wise to ask Carrie Underwood to fill his bandanna. Right down to the scarf dangling from her back pocket to her own set of whirling dervish spins, the increasingly badass country diva channeled the mercurial lead singer to close out 2013’s CMA Music Festival, performing the Guns smash “Paradise City.”
At first glance, a Guns N’ Roses song — aside from Lies‘ “Used to Love Her” or Use Your Illusion I‘s “You Ain’t the First,” maybe — might seem an odd choice for country music’s most high-profile gathering. But CMA Music Fest, which runs this week in Nashville, has increasingly welcomed more and more rock artists. In 2004, Bret Michaels performed with Chris Cagle, and last year Lenny Kravitz made a perplexing appearance, dueting with Jason Aldean on “American Woman” before playing an interminable rendition of his peace-love-and-more-peace jam “Let Love Rule.”
Underwood, however, had the stadium full of country fans — many of whom likely came of age when Guns N’ Roses were an MTV mainstay — enraptured from the second she blew that traffic-cop whistle to signal the song’s big bang. It was such commitment to detail that made her “Paradise City” a standout performance. This wasn’t a phoned-in cover or a heavy-metal lark, the kind some country artists add to their set as if to say, “Hey, I can rock too.”
With her bare legs stomping the stage, Underwood paid due attention to every word of Rose’s lyrics, delivering the “Are you blind?” aside with particular fierceness. And when the song reached its crescendo, the singer went right over the edge with it, twirling like a tornado and tossing in more than a few banshee wails. The only thing missing from the Guns N’ Roses usual show-stopper was Rose’s signature farewell, “Thank you, good fucking night!” But then again, CMA Fest is a family show.