If you want to get to bottom of why Eric Church shows are the phenomenon that they are, you have to go. But you also have to stay. Because much like Church himself, these shows don’t just quit halfway in.
And since Church was all in, his fans were all in. For three and a half hours on Friday night (March 22), Church maintained a captive audience for more than 40 songs. Start to finish, there were 35 full songs, and then a medley of seven cover tunes within one of his very last songs of the night.
The show opened with “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” and “Desperate Man,” both from his most recent records. But then Church threw his 13-year-old first single “How ‘Bout You” right into the set. Throughout the first half of the show, he stuck with his own songs: “Mr. Misunderstood,” “Cold One,” “Over When It’s Over,” “Can’t Take It With You,” “Drink In My Hand,” “Carolina,” “Higher Wire,” “Before She Does,” “Talladega,” “Creepin'” and “The Outsiders.” Oh, and a few seconds of old Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.”
Because Church prides himself on varying the set list from night to night and from town to town, the crowd knew to expect the unexpected. So when the 20-minute break gave everyone the chance to get a drink and stretch their legs, they did so in a hurry. It was as if the short intermission forced them into some kind of Church withdrawals.
So when everyone was back in their seats and just as eager as they were at the start of the show, Church explained what could possibly happen next.
“Welcome to the second half. Somewhat of a home stretch. Although tonight,” he warned, “I’m having a damn good time. We might just play a while.”
That’s right around the time he brought out a few newer songs, like “The Snake, “Knives of New Orleans,” and “Record Year.” In what’s become a Church tradition, he spent a full three minutes autographing album covers fans had brought to the show.
“This next song — and every parent has been through this — there’s that thing you go through when your kids are scared of the monsters underneath their bed and in the closet. And my oldest son Boone was real scared one night,” Church shared before he played “Monsters,” “and I came into his room. And all he wanted me to do was turn the bathroom light a little brighter. And that changed everything.
“And, at this time, there was a lot going on in the world and a lot going on in my life. And I had the thought: if only it was just the monsters underneath the bed that we had to worry about.”
After that glimpse into his private life, he headed straight back to his rowdy side, with “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” “Jack Daniels,” and “Mixed Drinks About Feelings.” Then it was time for a couple deep-rooted, no-boundaries covers: REO Speedwagon’s “Take It on the Run” and Mavis Staples and The Staples Singers'”I’ll Take You There.”
After another handful of his own wind-ranging country songs (“Homeboy,” “Drink a Little Drink,” “Some of It,” “Heart Like a Wheel,” “Keep On,” and “Round Here Buzz”), he checked in with the crowd two hours into the show. Just to make sure he could keep on keeping on. “You good? You tired? Don’t you (expletive) quit on me,” he said.
The night was close to drawing to an end after Church brought out “These Boots,” “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “Springsteen,” the trio of his mandatory crowd pleasers.
Then when it came time to almost shut the show down, Church used his own “Mistress Named Music” to bookend a medley of songs from all walks of life: “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay,” “Look Away,” “I Want You to Want Me,” “Eye of the Tiger,” “I Love Rock ’n’ Roll,” “Pour Some Sugar on Me,” and “Sweet Home Chicago.” The collection of mixed music fit perfectly inside the song about chasing a song until you’re gone.
Church closed the show, just a little before midnight, with one of the songs that started it all, “Sinners Like Me.” It was the title track off his 2006 debut album. But like Church himself, it showed absolutely no signs of aging.
Friday night’s Double Down tour stop was the first night of Church’s two-night stay at the Allstate Arena just outside of Chicago.