BY MELISSA RUGGIERI
You might expect something called “The Storyteller Tour” to consist of a stool and an acoustic guitar.
You would be wrong.
What Carrie Underwood is bringing fans on this so-named tour is a no-expense-spared spectacle that highlights her approachable beauty, her roar of a voice and a substantive set of songs that have commanded the charts since her “American Idol” victory a long decade ago.
Monday’s sold-out concert at the Infinite Energy Center in Duluth – where Underwood previously played in December 2012 – was only the second date of a tour that will keep her accumulating Fitbit steps through May.
The in-the-round setup commissioned by Underwood allows for unparalleled vantage points – and even those in the arena’s highest peaks could watch one of four oval video screens situated above each side of the stage.
Rising from beneath the stage atop a lighted tier for the opening “Renegade Runaway,” Underwood looked like a sleek Stevie Nicks in black stiletto boots and a black corset dress.
After some minor microphone feedback during “Renegade,” Underwood settled in vocally, urging crowd participation on the Def Leppard-like stomper “Undo It” and unleashing her best growls and biggest notes during “Good Girl.”
Every song was accompanied by a dazzling visual element, whether it was the sparks-shooting jukebox of “Cowboy Casanova” or the shimmering mirror ball that spun above Underwood’s lighted platform as she crooned “Heartbeat.”
Throughout the show, her eight-piece band, tucked into the stage like pieces in a Trivial Pursuit pie, were raised and lowered on hydraulic platforms, edging in and out of sight as the arena flooded red to match the vaguely sinister vibe of “Two Black Cadillacs” and adding touches of twang and sheen to the sassy chugger, “Dirty Laundry.”
Underwood also demonstrated her robust harmonica skills (did we know about this?) during the swampy “Choctaw County Affair,” no doubt surprising most, if not all, of the audience with her skills.
Underwood has never been a comfortable conversationalist, and for the first half of the 100-minute concert, her songs and the dizzying eye candy carried the production. But by the time she quick-changed into her fourth outfit of the night – a black mini-dress and studded jacket – Underwood was ready to tell some stories.
She shared her admiration of Dolly Parton – “She does it all!” – before uncorking “I Will Always Love You.” Accompanied only by sparse acoustic guitar and standing alone in the circular center of the stage, Underwood nailed the song, technically and emotionally, and showcased not only the power of her voice, but her ability to contain it when necessary.
She also talked about being a mom to “the sweetest little guy,” her nearly 1-year-old son Isaiah with husband Mike Fisher, before tender photos of the young family played while she sang, with noticeably glassy eyes, “What I Never Knew I Always Wanted.”
Fun Carrie returned – with show openers the Swon Brothers and Easton Corbin – for the hoedown “Fishin’ in the Dark,” and Underwood canvassed the catwalks extending from the stage with her “Carrie Cam” during “All American Girl,” a warm exhibition of fan inclusion.
Underwood might be the undeniable darling of country music, but let’s face it, she’s a missing fiddle away from Swift-ian pop stardom, the kind of crossover artist who appeals to multiple generations and musical tastes that straddle pop, rock and country.
But as she readies to turn 33 next month, her contentment with her life is palpable. This tour is her biggest moment yet -- let her revel in it.