Review: Carrie Underwood, Hunter Hayes deliver punch

Review • Maverik Center spectacle jump-started by Hayes' star turn.
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West Valley City • In a promotion sponsored by local country radio station The Eagle 101.5, Tracy Taylor and Michael Garrett were married on a flatbed truck by afternoon D.J. Jon Watkins outside the Maverik Center before Carrie Underwood's concert Wednesday evening.

The lucky couple then began what will hopefully be a lifetime of wedded bliss with the best wedding singers in town that night: former "American Idol' winner Carrie Underwood and up-and-coming wunderkind Hunter Hayes.

Instead of a wedding D.J. exhorting the packed arena to dance the Hava Negila or line-dance to "Don't Stop Believin'," the twenty-somethings delivered a high-spirited, diverse collection of hits from their twangy catalogs.

Hayes, a 21-year-old multi-instrumentalist from Breaux Bridge, La., opened the evening with a short but star-making turn. In his first Utah concert, he showed he has mastered the art of lovelorn balladry (with his No. 1 country hit "Wanted") as well as guitar-fueled, spicy jambalaya — not to mention a fun take on Bruno Mars' "Just the Way You Are." The good-looking blonde with charisma to burn, clad in a black V-neck and blue jeans, didn't have to roll a garter belt down anyone's legs, for the multitudes of young women were throwing garters at him.

Underwood, 29, who learned earlier in the day that she scored four nominations for this winter's American Country Awards, then launched the high-concept, multi-media spectacle that she and her Nashville peers have perfected in the last decade. It was slick, but entertaining.

The set began with three massive video screens depicting Underwood running away from a twister in an post-apocalytic wasteland straight out of "The Walking Dead." The Oklahoman sought refuge in a house, and then a house rose at the back of the stage. Underwood, wearing a sparkly blue high-low dress, emerged from the house in a flash of bright primary colors, as if she was Glinda the Good Witch landing in Oz rather than Dorothy. With her clear soprano in fine form, Underwood greeted the crowd with "Good Girl" and gams that could inspire a porn addiction.

The highlight of the show was when Underwood and three acoustic guitarists, on a small stage with faux-wood guardrails, were lofted up towards the rafters by four lit Japanese paper balloons. As the stage moved towards the other side of an arena, you couldn't help but think it was a gimmick. But country music nowadays separates itself from other musical performances in a gleeful celebration of gimmickry, as each crooner tries to outdo one another. The show was full of spectacular lighting, a slick stage design, and even confetti near the mid-point of the concert.

But all would be empty calories if Underwood, as well as Hayes, didn't have the voice and songs that satisfy. And they both do. Like a good wedding, Hayes's opening set was like a cocktail hour that served up lobster and fruity hurricanes, with Underwood the bride who doesn't think twice about belting out Aerosmith's "Sweet Emotion" during the reception to continue the party into the wee hours.

Where's the after party? —

Review: Carrie Underwood

With • Hunter Hayes

Where • Maverik Center, West Valley City

When • Wednesday, Oct. 10.

Bottom Line • Carrie Underwood and Hunter Hayes deliver one-two punch of satisfying, well-sung country