This is part 2 of my CMAs performance review series. If you missed part 1, you can read it here. Now let’s get down to business.
Luke Bryan was next to perform. There was notable effort put into the staging, and neon ruled this Vegas theme, making it very different to those that went before. The vocals were very close to that of the studio version, but were clearly live, rendering his vocals some of the best of the night, and I was impressed as sometimes he, like many country stars, can be a little flat live. Musically, he kept it simple, but his showmanship was obvious as he commanded the stage, remaining active and interactive with the audience throughout. However, I can’t say it was a favorite since I’m not as keen on that particular song, and his stupid hat just about ruined it for me. I’m sorry, I just hate backwards baseball caps. How old are you, 8? Following this Hunter Hayes produced what was an odd performance for me. His first at the CMAs, his vocals were fairly weak and straining (nerves, that’s accepted, no points deducted for that) and they needed to turn up his mike. However, the backing was clearly either a backing track or a total instrumental reproduction of the studio version, except that all you could see was Hunter at a piano, seemingly playing it, although I don’t believe it was hooked up to any PA system. It’s a shame because it’s a nice song and it would have been better to either have seen the full band playing the song or to have done a totally stripped down version live with just Hunter playing. Maybe they wanted the stripped down artistic feel but didn’t feel that Hunter could pull it off all by himself.
Faith Hill performed ‘American Heart’, and we were back to the leather pants. The candle-like lights descending upon the stage were pretty, but that didn’t detract from the fact that Faith was clearly not at her best vocally that night. It’s unfortunate because I know she is a fantastic singer, but particularly towards the end it was uncomfortable to listen to, visibly straining to get the notes in the key change. Perhaps, and what I am beginning to suspect, her age is playing a part. She is, after all, 45 years old, and for most people the voice does tend to deteriorate as they get older, and perhaps this is just the first sign of that. Otherwise the performance was fine, although for such a ‘country’ themed song the outfit seemed a little ‘New York’ for my liking, but hey, each to their own. Brantley Gilbert changed it up a bit after that on the middle stage, interacting with the fans and dressed almost identically to what I always see him in. This was a pretty predictable performance for me, and I was disappointed he didn’t rock out a bit more, although he did pace up and down a little and threw the horns once or twice.
Zac Brown returned to the stage to duet with Keith Urban, for something I can only describe as ‘nice, but nothing special’. There was a ‘nice’ accompanying video, but the best thing about it was the guitar solo battle, as it reminded me of Keith and Brad Paisley a few years back on their performance of ‘Start a Band’. Zac and Keith have a fairly good chemistry and it was pleasant but nothing more. Brad Paisley was next up and personally this was when I sat up and took notice. He began the performance with a cover of Jay Z’s ‘Empire State of Mind’ as a tribute to those affected by Hurricane Sandy, which was a lovely last minute touch and was met with rapturous applause. This also cleverly merged into Southern Comfort Zone with some great guitar work. One thing I was really impressed with this time around with Brad was that his vocals were really on point throughout the song, even on the high notes, which historically he does have trouble with live (I’m remembering his performance of ‘Then’ a few years ago). In fact, he was much better vocally than many of the singers that night, and although much of the performance was a bit same-y, his vocals and command of the stage and electrifying guitar solo made it a highlight for me. In addition, the huge choir that filled the many aisles of the arena, filing through towards the stage, was an impressive sight and slightly awe-inspiring, building the big sound that he ended with.
Brad’s fellow host, Carrie Underwood, was another I was looking forward to as her performances are always strong. I felt the smoke machine was a little cheesy (okay, a lot cheesy), but it didn’t detract from her vocals which got better as the song progressed. I would almost argue that she is one of country music’s best vocalists ever, but I imagine that would be met with heated debate. I loved the dress she was wearing, it was a lovely color that kind of matches the color of a storm, I guess, and had very beautiful intricate details that almost distracted me from the performance (particularly the cheeky leg she always has on show)! Confetti added more drama at the end but I felt like with such a dramatic song more could have been done to build the mood and atmosphere. It was a safe and solid performance however.
That’s it for part 2, but don’t worry, part 3 is on its way soon, so don’t forget to look out for it.