CMA Awards 2009: All the performances, as they happen [UPDATED]
Pop & Hiss brings you instant reviews, typos and all, of all the performances at the Country Music Assn. Awards. It was a big night for Taylor Swift, who won entertainer of the year. She ended a three-year run from Kenny Chesney,
Taylor Swift, "Forever & Always." Nashville is going straight to its A-list star, opening the show with pop music's most popular living singer at the moment. She'll have two songs tonight, and first up is "Forever & Always." To sum it up: The 2009 CMA Awards are off and running with a train wreck. The energy and excitement of Swift's MTV Video Music Awards performance, in which she was running through a subway, is completely lost. Beginning with a fake interview with Nancy O'Dell was cute, especially when Swift noted that "If guys don't want me to write bad songs about them, they shouldn't do bad things." But turning her "Forever & Always" into a chair-throwing angsty performance, complete with a stripper -- or fireman’s pole (depending on your level of innocence) -- was ill-advised. She looked strained in trying to capture the anger of the song, awkwardly rolling on the floor and yanking at her hair. This is a D. But she has another performance in which to redeem herself.
Darius Rucker, "Alright." Performing after Carrie Underwood praised his ability to switch from rock ’n’ roll to country, Rucker unveiled a good-time pop-rock tune that wasn’t all that different from his Hootie and the Blowfish days. Although perhaps the reference to Patsy Cline was more of a nod to Nashville. Rucker, like Swift, sounded a bit off. But if Swift’s performance was oddly bad, this was just predictably bland. Rucker worked the crowd like he’d be selling records in the lobby after the show, running through the audience and high-fiving those in the expensive seats (the CMAs are open to the public). Pop & Hiss would say more about the song, but we’ve forgotten the performance while writing this summary. So a C.
Miranda Lambert, "White Liar." Here we go. Nashville should take note: All country award shows should be opened by Lambert. Though "White Liar" isn't the most fiery song on her recent "Revolution" (Pop & Hiss was pulling for "Sin for a Sin"), there's plenty to like here. Lambert is just the right mix of sweetness and grit, pulling the song to a mischievous stop in its final moments to reveal its lyrical twist. Her band is kickin', and she's on point. A
Brad Paisley, "Welcome to the Future." Songs about nostalgia have become a modern Nashville staple, and Paisley reveals his cute and relatable charm with this tune. Kids and parents unite as Paisley looks back on his days when he longed for a giant coin-op machine and tells us that now he has Pac-Man on his phone. References to video chats and homecoming queens stand side by side. As Paisley wields a sparkly blue guitar, he's a safe and modern star, coming across as the kind of rock 'n' roll heartthrob who isn't afraid to accessorize. B
Zac Brown Band, "Devil Went Down to Georgia." Faithful and crowd-pleasing, Zac Brown Band had the chops and the sharp violins to pull off the cover. But it’s an odd choice, considering this is one of country's most popular young acts and a group that will surely be in contention for best new artist at the Grammy Awards. An original would have been a better choice. We've heard this tune before, but the smokey D&D-like effects were kinda cool. Still, a cover here? D+
George Strait, "Twang." Country, straight-up. Sandwiched in the middle of three performances, Strait didn't get a prime showcase, but there's nothing to dislike here. This is lean-back, kick-up-your boots country, and Strait does it as well as anyone. A-
Lady Antebellum, "Need You Now." With the barren trees of fall and strands of Christmas lights, this backdrop was all elegant holiday loneliness. Hillary Scott isn't the world's most charismatic vocalist, but this ballad suits her just right. It's a gracefully easy melody line, and Lady Antebellum is better when not trying to rock out. Charles Kelley trades off with her, sounding like the completely uninteresting dude next door, but this single belongs to Scott. B
Carrie Underwood, "Cowboy Casanova." So long Nashville, as Underwood's "Cowboy Casanova" carries a slinky groove more fit for a dance club. Underwood's high heels and revealing outfit, as well as her backup singers in cocktail waitress attire, struck a more risque vibe. She could have been [insert pop star here] at your standard MTV award show, sporting a very glam outfit as she strutted and swung across the stage. But a spunky Underwood is better than ballad Underwood, and "Casanova" does a swell job of disguising what is -- for all intents and purposes -- a Top 40 cut with an occasional flash of country guitar notes. B-
Vince Gill and Daughtry, "Tennessee Line." A relatively stark stage kept the emphasis straight on the vocalists here, but there wasn't enough Gill. This seemed more marketing ploy than song, setting up the inevitable future country album from Daughtry. D
Keith Urban, "'Til Summer Comes Around." Urban is channeling the Eagles here, giving a low-key, back-lit performance. The song builds nicely, and Urban shows off some bluesy guitar notes toward the end. Would rather him cut a little loose, as the show needs some fire to get it into its midpoint here, but there's a compelling spookiness to the song that works. It also gives us time to reflect on just how many Fourth of July's the Australian-reared singer has had in his life to reflect upon. B+Tim McGraw, "Southern Voice." Bringing some fun back into the proceedings, McGraw seemed to stumble over a couple of his own lyrics, but smiled and plowed through it. It's a giant, silly, pop-culture referencing festival, but try not to sing along to "Hank Aaron smacked it, Michael Jordan dunked it." What does it all mean? Who knows, but admit it, you still sing along to "We Didn't Start the Fire" as well. B
Sugarland, "Keep You." This is Sugarland at what the duo does best. Jennifer Nettles stays just out in front of the small violin orchestra, leading the quiet moments to a whisper and not letting the orchestra overtake her as the song builds to a climax. Kristian Bush is a bit in the background here, as the camera keeps tight on Nettles, but she sounds terrific and she could silence the room. B+
Brooks & Dunn with ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons, "Honky Tonk Stomp." The duo's final CMA performance, until they're brought back for some sort of tribute years from now. Fast and full of pool-hall charm, they bow out with a loose rock 'n' roll number. B-
Jamey Johnson & Kid Rock, "Between Jennings and Jones." Going into the performance, it would have been easy to point out that that one thing Johnson doesn't need is Kid Rock. As the song started, and Kid Rock sported his country-via-Hollywood look, that seemed to continue to be the case, but the two played well together. Lyrics were changed and Kid Rock played to the crowd, tossing out a reference to John Rich in the second verse as Kid Rock's savior from jail. B-
Taylor Swift, "Fifteen." Swift is more in her element here, performing amid a circle of her fans. Without the crazy, over-the-top choreography, she sounds significantly better on this performance as well -- or at least charmingly out of tune. But she's the vulnerable teenager, and one of the crowd. She's performed this song at award shows of yore, including with Miley Cyrus at the Grammy Awards, but she isn't sold as something she’s not on her second go-round. A
Jason Aldean, "Big Green Tractor." Billed by Underwood as the "most romantic song" ever written about a tractor ride, we're unsure if that's a compliment or much of a teaser. But Pop & Hiss will disagree with Underwood here, and sub the word "only" for "most." C-
Martina McBride, "I Was Country When Country Wasn't Cool," with George Strait. A classically cool performance, with a soft-rock harmonica that hits just right. McBride brings up Barbara Mandrell -- who was recently inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and made the song famous -- on stage after giving her a fitting tribute. A-
Reba McEntire, "Consider Me Gone." Rocking knee-high boots and a sparkly tank top, McEntire gives the CMAs another solid, stately performance. All told, this is a pretty low-key night and McEntire brings a wise, no-nonsense performance. "If you think you can do better than this, then I guess we’re done," she tosses off, seemingly without effort, and few do it better. A-
Billy Currington, "People Are Crazy." A song about wild and crazy times about talking to a stranger in a bar, ultimately leading to Currington ending up with an inheritance he doesn’t deserve. It’s a short story with a clever twist, and it only works the first time you hear it. C-
Dave Matthews and Kenny Chesney, "I'm Alive." One of the most star-packed crossover performances, the "I'm Alive" duet packs about as much energy as a hammock hanging in a basement. And it's about as much fun. D
[UPDATED NOV. 12 11:36 A.M.] Live blogging is a risky endeavor, and a couple readers were kind enough to point out in the comment section below that I wrote in the wrong Brooks & Dunn title last night. The band did not perform "Boot Scootin’ Boogie’." The correct song was, of course, "Honky Tonk Stomp," the band's new single that actually does feature Billy Gibbons from ZZ Top. The post has been updated to reflect the correct title, and the positive grade for the song remains unchanged.
Photos Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood. Credits: Reuters