Thursday, November 29, 2012

Carrie Underwood and Hunter Hayes Come To Pittsburgh

Storm Warning: Prepare to be Blown Away!
Pittsburgh, November 27, 2012

Shorts are a good option if the stage is transparent and you are above people's heads

You know those intimidating-looking consoles that sound engineers sit in front of in recording studios, with a zillion dials and buttons and knobs? One presumes that many of them balance the general sound of all the input streams (vocal, guitars, drums, etc.) so that the layers ride in synch with one another to make the auditory experience pleasurable for the listener.

A criticism of contemporary recordings is that they’ve been “brickwalled” in this way, compressed so that very little dynamic range remains to give a record depth.

With Carrie Underwood, The Inky Jukebox has always secretly suspected that the engineers behind her records have turned everything up to eleven and gone out for beers. Every single element sounds like it has been pushed to the limit, sort of like standing in a kindergarten room at tired-time. Sure, Carrie’s voice sounds amazing — but can a real human voice really rise above all that sound? Do real human voices really sound like that at all? Listen to “So Small”: could a person make that sound if it weren’t for a lot of electronics?

Thus is was with a somewhat technical curiosity The Inky Jukebox attended Carrie Underwood’s Blown Away tour stop in Pittsburgh. If you’re going to name your tour “Blown Away,” it better do just that.

Carrie Underwood on the floating stage

The Inky Jukebox confoundedly reports that Carrie Underwood sounds pretty much the same live as she does on a CD. In person, a few less perfect notes break through, reassuringly, but her voice still reaches those places mortals tend not to go. One might wonder if this is because the sound mixer had her band turned up extra high, causing her to have to ride above it (and not always succeeding). At times, it can appear that Carrie is competing with the guitars for attention, when there should only be one diva on the stage.

The Inky Jukebox was delighted when the floating stage came out and stopped right where she was sitting giving her a front-row seat. Now that this bit of mechanics is here, it looks like everyone has to do some kind of crowd-immersion maneuver. 

The Inky Jukebox recorded this footage

This is mercifully tempered at the very end of the concert, when opening the encore, Carrie sits and sings, with only subtle accompaniment, with such force that you finally feel she could literally blow you away. It’s astonishing that she could produce such vocal fireworks two hours into a show.

Anything Taylor Swift, I can do better! 

Now that we’ve dispensed with the actual singing, we need to move on to the costumes. Carrie Underwood is known for two things: her blonde locks and her long legs. Both were being played for all their worth. The trouble with Carrie’s costumes is that they scream Oklahoma girl in a frock! They are clearly stage costumes and not real clothes, and even the most humble of outfits — cut-off jeans and a tank-top — is gussied up with dangly accessories galore. Carrie is sexiest when prowling a stage in a pair of black leather pants and thigh-high boots. Alas, the ruffled blue mini-dress confection with ankle booties has the opposite effect.

The screen says it all, clever marketing move

One person The Inky Jukebox will definitely see when he comes to town again is Hunter Hayes, who lives up to all the hype. He is clearly a natural on the stage and in front of a crowd, which ought to be expected since he’s been doing this professionally since he was six. The only thing that wasn’t as awesome as the talent he brings is the shortness of the set he has to deliver as an opening act, and the way this causes him to rush songs which deserve more breathing room. This is especially so when circumstances cause him to drop “Rainy Season” from the set — a longer song that needs time to develop, and perhaps a more intimate setting or invested crowd.

Hunter Hayes, go see him while he's still young