Live Review: Eric Church captivates with his solo, (mostly) acoustic set

Eric Church

Above, Eric Church performed at All My Friends: Celebrating The Songs and Voice of Gregg Allman in Atlanta. On Friday, Church opened for George Strait with an hour-long solo set. (Photo by The Associated Press)

Eric Church played what is likely the first opening gig he’s done in awhile, but he did so for a legend.

George Strait brought the “Springsteen” singer on tour for the weekend including a Friday date in Omaha where Church took the stage without his backing band to play an hour-long set all by himself.

In it, he played 14 songs, showed off two nearly brand new tracks and showed why he’s a performer than anyone can and should admire.

Church is of the breed of country singers that like to mix bad boy rock stuff with your traditional country tunes, hence songs such as “Smoke a Little Smoke” and “Drink in My Hand” (as well as some songs not about imbibing). Or put another way: He’s a country singer in a tight T-shirt and a ballcap, not mother of pearl and a 10-gallon hat.

But that’s part of why he’s awesome. He’s a country singer not afraid to be a rock ‘n’ roller when he has to be nor is he afraid of singing about Jesus.

Enter Friday’s performance where Church walked onstage with close-cut hair, a pair of Ray Ban aviators, a silver chain and a tight black T-shirt. He quickly strummed the intro to “Drink In My Hand” and fans began filling in the words as he continued into the song.

“As you can tell, I’ve always wanted to do this,” he said.

Later, Strait even paid Church compliments for doing his set solo.

“That’s pretty cool, comin’ up here like that,” Strait said.

Other country artists who rely on a wall of sound may fold with nothing and no one backing them, but Church (and his songs) absolutely shined.

His head-on attitude, his voice and his guitar skills carried him through the set. He stomped out the beat and played the swampy riff of “Outsiders” on an electric guitar and he later played a bluesy version of “Country Boy Can Survive.”

Songs such as “Jack Daniels” and “Smoke a Little Smoke” make me think that Church could cross over to rock if he felt like it. (I, for one, would buy a straight rock record by him.)

A pair of songs from his new album – “A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” and “Dark Side” – were shown off for fans that likely haven’t heard them before. (Friday’s performance was one of the first several times he’s played the tunes, which will be released on “The Outsiders” come Feb. 11.)

“A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young” was about a 36-year-old finding his first grey hairs, Church said from the stage, but it also dealt with a man who thought he would die young but was coming to terms with getting older and not being a young punk any more. In the end, the song concludes “I’m gonna stick around and live forever.”

“Dark Side” was about moving past all the bad stuff someone has done, and how Church “got a wife and got a son and they don’t know half the stuff I’ve done.” The concluding (and haunting) last line was about how if anyone ever messed with his boy, that dark side would come right back.

He also played his latest singles, “The Outsiders” and ”Give Me Back My Hometown.”

Church closed out the set with “Springsteen,” of course, and fans flipped out for it. I loved that he dropped in a few lines of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” to the end of the tune, but he had fun the whole night weaving melodies and lines from different songs together. Church is talented enough to do it on the fly, and he did so several times.

“I have enjoyed the hell out of this,” said Church, who acknowledged how much he liked Omaha and how he recorded the video for “Drink in My Hand” in Council Bluffs. “Thank you, Omaha. I appreciate you letting me do this.”

Friday’s performance from Church made me think he should do an acoustic record or at least a live tour or album where he ditches the band and plays some smaller venues. He’d kill.

Setlist
“Drink In My Hand”
“Give Me Back My Hometown”
“Outsiders”
“Like Jesus Does”
“Guys Like Me”
“Over When It’s Over”
“Creepin’”
“A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young”
“Jack Daniels” (medley with “Livin’ Part of Life”)
“Country Boy Can Survive” (medley with “Homeboy”)
“Smoke a Little Smoke”
“Dark Side”
“These Boots”
“Springsteen” (medley with Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire”)

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