Carrie Underwood performs at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

Carrie Underwood favors the same sort of bad-man-meets-bad-end songs sung by Kelly Clarkson and Miranda Lambert. But she never seems as genuinely peeved as Lambert or as wounded by the real world as fellow former American Idol champ Clarkson often does.

At Verizon Center on Thursday, in fact, as Underwood left an overwhelmingly female audience giddy by belting out several of her most popular revenge tunes (“Church Bells” and “Two Black Cadillacs” among others), it was impossible to ignore how happy she was. She never stopped grinning no matter how dire the lyrics she was belting out became, and between songs she could be seen dancing in the dark, eager to get the next number going. The gals in her songs may get abused, cheated on and just wrong wrong wronged, but this is clearly a happy woman, and there’s something fabulous about watching somebody in love with her job as she works.

Underwood seems to be a student of Shania Twain’s more-is-more school of performing, and her 100-minute show was not burdened by subtlety. She came to the stage amid clouds of fog and enough laser beams to make laser-dependent ’70s rock acts such as Blue Oyster Cult jealous.

Her musical arrangements were equally bombast-friendly, which worked out well with the full-throated shriek that Underwood has showcased since her introduction on “Idol.” The delivery of “Blown Away,” which Underwood belted out while standing on a platform a few stories high surrounded by huge white sheets being wind-blown to simulate a storm coming in, made Coldplay’s live show seem understated. One brave and brief exception was Underwood’s partially a capella cover of Dolly Parton’s “I Will Always Love You.”


(Photo by Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

(Photo by Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)

She also wowed the crowd with a slew of bad-girl songs. She combined “Last Name,” a humblebrag about a night of immodest barroom behavior, with “Somethin’ Bad,” a Lambert tune chronicling a distaff gang’s crime spree. And on “Choctaw County Affair,” the female protagonist explains how she got away with murdering a local gossip to prevent word of an illicit romance getting around town.

She showed another side by going back to her first big single, 2005’s “Jesus Take the Wheel.” Throughout the arena, fans raised palms skyward as she sang her heavy-handed tale of deliverance, as though Underwood were testifying in church. The fact that a song so cheesy could reach the top of the sales charts seems in itself to be proof of a higher power.

Near night’s end, as she wailed through another chart-topper, “Before He Cheats,” many fans in the stands wept, as if the tale of infidelity Underwood was telling had hit too close to home. She sang it with a smile.


(Photo by Kyle Gustafson for The Washington Post)