That’s what struck me about Eric Church’s Chicago show on Thursday night (April 13).
That Church could not only draw a crowd of 18,000, but that he could keep them in the arena well past midnight.
No one was rushing home to relieve the babysitter. No one needed to get out early to beat the parking lot traffic jam. No one seemed worried about how they might feel in the morning. It felt like no one even considered leaving until Church left.
Maybe because going into the concert, Church’s fans knew just what to expect.
“You know the deal,” Church said a few songs into his 185 minutes of music.
“It’s just us and you,” he said of the tour’s straightforward, no-opener concert bill. “All night long. Because of my history in this city and where we came from, you’re gonna get a little something extra. My apologies to everyone else. We’re gonna sing, we’re gonna play, we’re gonna be here as long as you wanna be here. If you guys meet me halfway tonight, I promise this: they will be talking about this show for a long time. Deal?”
The other unspoken deal Church made with the crowd was that he would spend time on every inch of the stage. So when he wandered out to the front of the circle stage at 8:45 — with just an acoustic guitar — and opened the show with “Mistress Named Music” backed by his band and about 20 members of the Valparaiso High School choir, that was about the only time he stayed in one place.
As Church ran around the circle, stopping to play for all the fans filling the Allstate Arena seats, the fans in the pit inside the circle, and the fans behind the stage in the Choir Loft, he seemed determined not to let anyone feel left out.
But when he did slow the energy down to tell a story — like the one about playing Chicago’s Joe’s Bar 11 years ago when only about ten people showed up — the crowd quieted down to listen to every word.
Church played 37 songs, which took a little more than three hours, and only two of them weren’t his.
One of the two was Church’s country take on the blues standard, “Sweet Home Chicago.” And the other was “Bible and a .44,” a tune he performed with the singer-songwriter behind it, Ashley McBryde. Church called her his favorite new artist, and a whiskey-drinkin’ bad ass.
The set list, Church explained, changes every night on this tour. But the cadence of the show felt like it must’ve been orchestrated to keep things interesting. Church blended the hit songs with the deep cuts, and the old stuff with the new stuff.
And as if Church needed proof that his fans did indeed dig the old stuff, when he started the first verse of “Record Year,” fans down in front handed him their own albums to sign. One was his 2006 debut Sinners Like Me, and one was 2009’s Carolina.
But the new songs went over just as well. Church may be the only artist who could play all ten tracks off a new album — Mr. Misunderstood — and turn every song into a crowd singalong.
After a brief 20-minute intermission (it actually came 15 songs in, so it wasn’t technically “halftime” as Church kept calling it), he told the crowd that he was not going to use the weeknight as an excuse to cut the concert short.
“I do not give a shit it’s a Thursday night. I don’t care,” he said.
“I knew we’d get to this point tonight. We’re this close to breaking through and tearing the damn place down. I mentioned earlier where we came from. That was bars and clubs and little shitty dives. That’s in our DNA. That’s my fave place to be. So this next song, if you’ll help me, we’re gonna turn this place into a bar,” he said before starting “Jack Daniels” and serving shots of the Old No. 7 Tennessee whiskey to anyone within arm’s reach.
Here is the set list for Thursday’s (April 13) Holdin’ My Own Tour live at Chicago’s Allstate Arena:
“Mistress Named Music”
“That’s Damn Rock and Roll”
“Knives of New Orleans”
“Drink In My Hand”
“How ’Bout You”
“Over When It’s Over”
“’Round Here Buzz”
“Kill a Word”
“Pledge Allegiance to the Hag”
“Smoke a Little Smoke”
“Ain’t Killed Me Yet”
“Guys Like Me”
“Lotta Boot Left to Fill”
“Two Pink Lines”
“Like a Wrecking Ball”
“Sweet Home Chicago”
“Bible and a .44” with Ashley McBryde
“Country Music Jesus”
“Give Me Back My Hometown”
“Before She Does”
“Mixed Drinks About Feelings”
“Three Year Old”
“Holdin’ My Own”
“Sinners Like Me”
“Like Jesus Does”