Review: Technical difficulties forced Carrie Underwood way off-script. It got awkward.

As well-oiled machines go, Carrie Underwood’s “Denim & Rhinestones Tour” has served as the gold standard for slippery apparatuses this winter when it comes to arena spectacles.

Or it had, at least, until the country-music star landed in Charlotte on Wednesday night.

Underwood’s show at Spectrum Center marked the 20th in support of the album of the same name, which she dropped last June; and in each of the previous cities — best we can tell — the singer has moved through a nearly identical sequence of about two dozen songs with a level of precision that would impress the U.S. fighter-jet pilot who took out the Chinese balloon.

She rarely diverts from her script. And now we know why. To explain:

Not even 20 minutes into her show here, during the first verse of bad-breakup song “Hate My Heart,” the audio Underwood’s mic was producing suddenly became staticky.

For a moment, it looked like her team would be able to work through the issue. Underwood’s backup vocalist and fiddle player Sydni Perry swooped in and surrendered her mic to the headliner, who tried as hard as I’ve ever seen someone try to keep their stuff together in a crisis. But the problem persisted. Seconds later, a stagehand rushed Underwood and gave her a third mic. No better.

Perry tried giving back the original mic. The static stopped, but for the rest of the song, Underwood sounded ... off. Apparently, her in-ear monitors weren’t working, which meant she couldn’t hear herself, which meant — I mean, basically, it meant nothing good.

I’m gonna try not to pick on her for what transpired over the 4-1/2 minutes after “Hate My Heart” ended.

She can do that herself.

“Somebody’s gonna tell me when they got the stuff back online, right?” Underwood said, wearing a winning smile despite her obvious loss of comfort. “Or you just gonna let me sit out here and tell jokes? You don’t want me to do that.”

Superstar Carrie Underwood sings “Church Bells” to a packed Spectrum Center during her “Denim and Rhinestones” tour in Charlotte on Wednesday night. Underwood’s career was launched after she won the fourth season of “American Idol” in 2005
Superstar Carrie Underwood sings “Church Bells” to a packed Spectrum Center during her “Denim and Rhinestones” tour in Charlotte on Wednesday night. Underwood’s career was launched after she won the fourth season of “American Idol” in 2005

“What else is going on, Charlotte?” she said after another awkward minute spent killing time talking about nothing of substance. “What’s poppin’? What’s there to do here?” Then: “I hear things in my ears. Ooo, I hear a ‘Almost there.’” Nervous laughter, followed by: “I sing for a livin’, I do not talk for a livin’.” A beat later: “Oh, ooo, oh! ... I can hear myself now. But I’m not sure if I want to.”

At one point, she seemed to break some personal news that she probably wouldn’t have if she hadn’t otherwise been desperate to avoid dead air.

“I adopted a puppy,” she blurted. “Don’t tell my children. It’s a surprise.” A fan asked what kind of dog she adopted, to which Underwood replied: “I don’t know. The best kind. The rescue kind. We are shelter dog people. That’s how we roll. They’ve been wanting one for a while, and we’ve been looking for one for a while, and I think we found — well, I know we found — our girl.”

Shortly thereafter, she suggested she could take questions from the audience, but almost immediately thought better of it and pivoted ... to chatting up someone even less comfortable at ad-libbing than her.

Underwood: “Let’s talk to Ed for a minute. Ed, bail me out here. What’d you do today?”

Ed Eason, her lead guitarist, flailing right away: “You’re lookin’ at it. I did nothing today.”

Underwood, flailing right back: “That’s nice. It’s nice to do nothing.”

Eason, quickly adding something pretty much apropos of the word he used to describe what he did Wednesday: “I was born in Charlotte, North Carolina.”

Underwood, sounding relieved to hear the crowd cheering for said random declaration: “I did not know that! I learned something about Ed!”

Then right after she threw up her hands and offered to “sing a cappella for a minute,” Underwood was handed a mic that worked.

As she and the band launched into “Cowboy Casanova,” she gave Eason an OMG-I-thought-that-was-never-going-to-end look — and with that, the concert was back on track.

Carrie Underwood sang to a packed Spectrum Center for her “Denim and Rhinestones” tour in Charlotte on Wednesday night. She opened her set with “Good Girl.”
Carrie Underwood sang to a packed Spectrum Center for her “Denim and Rhinestones” tour in Charlotte on Wednesday night. She opened her set with “Good Girl.”

So why make such a big deal about all that?

I know, I know. That’s a lot of time and energy spent focusing on a seven-minute segment of a 1-hour and 55-minute show.

So why did I?

Look, there’s no question that for all intents and purposes, the other hour and 48 minutes of Underwood’s performance on Wednesday night served as a veritable Carrie Underwood highlight reel.

Visually: Everything from the flames that shot up from the sides of the catwalk as she belted “Burn” ... to the P!nk-like poses she struck while dangling from a web of metal rings arranged to mimic a gyroscope ... to costumes that incorporated flat boots (studded with rhinestones), garter straps (studded with rhinestones), a calf-length fringe-leather trench coat (studded with rhinestones), and a baby-blue floor-length ball gown (studded with — well, you get the picture).

Sonically: It’s hard to pick a best vocal, but contenders include the knock-you-on-your-keister power notes in ballads like 2005’s “Wasted,” which she says “will always be one of my personal favorites” ... the lift-you-back-up-off-the-ground-positivity and gentle restraint of newer song “Garden” ... and the completely-lacking-in-restraint boldness of her rip-roaring, surprisingly Axl Rose-esque cover of Guns N Roses’s “Welcome to the Jungle.”

Narratively: Whereas I complained in 2016 about her “Storyteller Tour” lacking in actual stories, Underwood did do more this time around, to good effect. For example, in setting up new song “She Don’t Know” (while wearing a cream-colored cowboy hat and holding a glass of red wine), she explained that “the day we were writing this particular song, I feel like we all kinda had a different movie playing in our heads, and for me the stars of that movie were Miss Dolly and Miss Jolene.

“Now, I love that song. I think Miss Dolly is just what we’re all trying to be, to be honest. But on that particular day, having those people in my head, there was something that was kinda stirring in me. There’s something about that song ‘Jolene’ that never sat quite right with me. And that is, I could not think of a woman that has ever walked this planet that could steal a man away from Miss Dolly Parton. So I kinda wanted to take them and tell the story my own way. I hope Miss Dolly doesn’t mind.”

Later, in teeing up “Garden,” which is on the “Denim & Rhinestones” album, she said, “We came up with an album that I feel like, for me, it just makes my heart happy. It makes me wanna dance, it makes me wanna sing. I hope you guys feel that way, too. But out of all the songs on the album that are super-fun and sparkly, we did write one that ended up just having a lot of heart.

“We didn’t even mean for that to happen. Sometimes it just happens. We walked in, and we just started talking about the world and how important it is to be kind in the world, and how important it is to say nice things and try and lift each other up and look at the positive things in the world. Because no matter what, I promise each and every one of us — myself included, I have to remind myself of this — that if you put good things out into the world you’re just gonna get good things back.”

Carrie Underwood gestures to the crowd as she performs her song “Church Bells” at Spectrum Center in Charlotte on Wednesday night.
Carrie Underwood gestures to the crowd as she performs her song “Church Bells” at Spectrum Center in Charlotte on Wednesday night.

But Underwood has told the exact same stories in pretty much every city on this tour.

I can also only imagine that, in every city, she moves in the same ways at the same moments in the same songs. Marching in place here; crouching low and/or pitching her upper body forward there; standing up tall and rearing her head back now; doing a bobbing-and-weaving kind of dance then; sweeping her hand across the air at the end of this verse; kicking her foot or throwing her knee into the air to punctuate a lyric in that chorus; and stretching the mic out a foot from her face as she holds the last notes of, well, take your pick of songs.

Basically, the highlights I mentioned are typically always going to be the same.

She’ll appear to be genuinely having a blast. She’ll sound better live than the majority of singers you’ll hear sing live in an arena. But let’s face it, she’s not giving you a one-of-a-kind experience. You’re getting the country-music-megastar-tour version of “Les Miserables” on Broadway — something that will fully satisfy fans, sure, but something that’s meticulously scripted.

That is, unless the mics start failing like they did at Spectrum Center on Wednesday night.

“This is literally the first time this has ever happened. Ever,” Underwood said, seeming incredulous, as she was deep into experiencing those technical difficulties. “You guys are getting something special tonight.”

Granted, that last part may have been in jest.

But I believe, seriously, that what we saw was special. And here’s why: For 4-1/2 awkward, glorious minutes, we got to see side of Carrie Underwood not often seen live. She morphed, however briefly, into (gasp!) a human being not too unlike us. A human being with insecurities, who’s just trying to get by, who reflexively talks about their kids or their pets when they can’t think of anything else interesting to say.

In an era when many major concert tours involve stars just going through the motions — skillful and entertaining as those motions may be — what could be more special than that?

Carrie Underwood’s setlist

1. “Good Girl”

2. “Church Bells”

3. “Undo It”

4. “Hate My Heart”

5. “Cowboy Casanova”

6. “If I Didn’t Love You”

7. “Wasted”

8. “She Don’t Know”

9. “Blown Away”

10. “Burn”

11. “Cry Pretty”

12. “Ghost Story”

13. “Two Black Cadillacs”

14. “Garden”

15. “Jesus, Take the Wheel”

16. “How Great Thou Art”

17. “Crazy Angels”

18. “Denim & Rhinestones”

19. “Flat on the Floor”

20. “Poor Everybody Else”

21. “Last Name”

22. “Something in the Water”

23. “Welcome to the Jungle”

24. “Before He Cheats”