You never know which Eric Church you're going to get during his marathon concert sets, but on Saturday (May 18) in Los Angeles, Church made it clear that while he still seeks salvation in his journey through life, he's not afraid to embrace the man that stands before his righteous maker — the guitar slinger with the heart of a sinner.
Church has certainly evolved since releasing his debut album Sinners Like Me more than 13 years ago, but at Staples Center he played five songs from the inaugural album in a dazzling performance that was part redemption, part rebellion and 100 percent different that any other show on the tour. Church changes his marathon 34-song set each night, powering through hits from his six studio albums, deep cuts and rare tracks from his 61 Days in Church series, as well as a few tracks honoring his strong following in the Golden State.
That includes Credence Clearwater's "Lodi" as well as "I Love LA" by Randy Newman and Snoop Dogg's "Gin and Juice," leading out a medley that started from his song "Mistress Named Music" from his 2015 Mr Misunderstood album.
"I was born in 1977 and have always been drawn to the great songs of the 1980s," said Church before kicking off the generational-driven track "Hippie Radio," an ode to life heard through an FM radio on the bench backseat of a beige Pontiac while his dad "couldn't carry a tune in a bucket, but sang at the top of his lungs."
Performing with a full band to a completely packed arena, Church's set was hard-pounding with a distinctively rock-heavy sound. Wearing his signature aviator sun glasses, black shirt, jeans and a guitar often strapped across his back like a quiver of arrows, he ran and high-fived fans sitting in his O-shaped stage. Church carries a large stage production for his current Double Down tour, but his show avoids some of the pyro-heavy tricks of other country stage shows and puts his bandmates like vocalist Joanna Cotten and former Black Crowes guitarist Jeff Cease front and center.
Saturday's show wrapped the first leg of Church's Double Down tour, which had him playing double dates in 17 North American cities since Spring. The set list is different for every show on the Double Down tour, but each three-and-a-half-hour concerts ends with the nostalgia heavy anthem, "Springsteen," with fans waving American flag scarves similar to the one he wore in the song's 2012 video.
For the uninitiated, Church's concerts feel like a hard rock show punctuated by his signature North Carolina accent and his enduring spirit that pushes the audience deeper into his catalog of songs. Each night audiences don't know if they're going to get the defiant Church from his 2014 The Outsiders album or the more self-reflective Church from tracks like "Mr. Misunderstood" and "Some Of It."
He's got party anthems like "Drink in My Hand" and "Smoke A Little Smoke" and always takes a shot of his favorite whiskey as his audience screams along "Jack Daniels kicked my ass again last night." He's also got an arsenal of coming-of-age classics like "Mr. Misunderstood," "Round Here Buzz" and "Talladega" that capture the wide-eyed idealism of growing up in the U.S., with the messy stains of heartbreak tapered by the healing power of time and the clear gaze of reflection. It's not how Church describes those moments that makes his fans love him — it's the way those songs make them feel about the moments in life we revisit, whether that's letting "the one" get away or bringing home your first born from the hospital. While so much of country music today is about extending one's own brand for endorsements, Church manages to master every lane heading out of Nashville as one of the best songwriters and performers of his generation.
Church wraps the first leg of his Double Down tour Saturday (May 25) with a hometown show at Nashville's Nissan Stadium — the first artist to play the NFL stadium without an opener — followed by June 28 & 29 shows at the Gorge in George, Washington. For a complete list of shows on the tour and tickets, visit ericchurch.com.