The mood outside the Variety Playhouse in Atlanta on Friday bordered on frenzied. Just that morning, Carrie Underwood announced she'd be performing a surprise up-close-and-personal show, part of CMT's Instant Jam series, in the Georgia capital. Fans responded by lining up immediately for tickets at a nearby park, and then amassing outside the theater in the city's hip Little Five Points section. By the time Underwood took the stage a little after 8:00 p.m., the crowd was at fever pitch.
Such is the case when one of country music's inarguable superstars plays a small room — certainly when compared to the arenas she'll be headlining when she launches a new tour early next year. As her eight-piece band played the intro to "Blown Away," Underwood appeared from backstage in a black jumper that highlighted her defined legs and went straight to work, belting out her 2012 hit. A cautionary "Cowboy Casanova" followed, before the new mother dialed it back in tempo but not power for "Wasted."
Prefacing "Jesus, Take the Wheel," Underwood expressed her gratitude to fans for their support and talked about going back to the beginning of her career. Indeed, despite being released in 2005, her multi-week Number One remains a bona fide showstopper. And while the Oklahoma native has made no overtures about fully crossing over into pop, she doesn't shy away from volume or theatrics in her singing style. On Friday night, she hit and held notes far out of the country register, making the case that Underwood may also be the best female rock singer working today.
For latest single "Smoke Break," Underwood showed off her new guitar skills, but the song was the only taste of her upcoming Storyteller album. Still, it resonated with her fans, who packed the floor, the theater seats behind it and even the balcony of the Variety Playhouse for the rare show. This was Underwood on her game, commanding a stage that was intimate and minimally set — only a few lights. But by the time she kicked into the fiery "Last Name," all poise and confidence, you'd have sworn she was playing to a stadium.
Underwood's installment of CMT Instant Jam will premiere October 17th at 10:00 p.m. ET on CMT.