(CMT Offstage keeps a 24/7 watch on everything that’s happening with country music artists behind the scenes and out of the spotlight.)
I think I watched Eric Church make Chief. At least that’s what it felt like Wednesday night (Nov. 16). Church was at Joe’s Bar in Chicago for a “deconstructed” show. And in the process of tearing down the big band, what was left was six singer-songwriters and their six acoustic guitars on six stools in front of six microphones. At one point, Church called the five men with him “the best band in country music.” And together, taking turns on vocals, they played all 11 tracks from Church’s latest album almost like they were in the process of making a rough draft. So instead of hearing all the polished studio tracks, you were hearing the songs as they must’ve sounded early in the crafting process. In fact, with just one voice and one guitar, even some of Church’s badass rockers, like “Jack Daniels” and “Hungover & Hard Up,” sounded like love songs. Church joined each songwriter for a portion of his song but also gave them some time to shine on their own.
The 16-song set list started with Ryan Tyndell on “Keep On,” Casey Beathard on “Homeboy,” Jeff Hyde on “Jack Daniels,” Church on “Creepin’,” Luke Laird on “Hungover & Hard Up” and Mike Heeney (who was raised about 10 miles from Joe’s Bar) on “Drink in My Hand.” The six continued taking turns again on “Springsteen,” “Like Jesus Does,” “I’m Getting’ Stoned,” “Country Music Jesus” and “Over When It’s Over” before getting into older songs like “These Boots” and “Love Your Love the Most.” After that, Church said, “That was supposed to be the end of our show, but I don’t feel like quittin’ yet.” Then he sang his “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” from his 2006 debut album. He said he’d played that one at Joe’s Bar when there were only about 20 people there to listen. But last night, the crowd was maxed out. You could hear their enthusiasm echoing every word to every song. And you could see that enthusiasm reflected in Church’s mirrored aviators. It may not be the kind of Church show his fans are used to, but it looked like they’d take his music any way they could get it.