ANNIE REUTER • FEBRUARY 17, 2017 - 12:56 PM
Eric Church is taking a cue from Bruce Springsteen’s playbook by powering through a three-and-a-half hour set night after night on his 2017 Holdin’ My Own Tour. The country singer has no opening acts on his tour and instead gives everything he has to his audience for close to four hours much like The Boss, who is a major inspiration to The Chief and the source of his 2012 hit “Springsteen.”
The singer paid homage to several of his musical heroes, including Springsteen, Thursday night (Feb. 16) at his sold-out show at Infinite Energy Center in Duluth, Ga. Before his performance of “Springsteen,” Church covered the legend’s “Thunder Road” alone on acoustic guitar center stage. Later, after singing “funny how a melody sounds like a memory” off his own song about the singer, he told the audience that the lyric is why he first picked up a guitar.
“When a melody meets a memory your life changes forever,” he explained. “If you have one of those moments, kind of like me tonight, it gets frozen in time. When you have that happen, that’s the power of music.”
Church himself gave the sold-out crowd a night of memories they’ll never forget with his marathon set. Early in the evening, he paid tribute to two of music’s greatest songwriters who departed from us last year — Leonard Cohen and Merle Haggard. Church kicked off his set with the audio of Cohen’s “Hallelujah” played on the speakers as a spotlight shone on a microphone on the empty stage. Soon after, he’d perform “Mistress Named Music” while a local children’s choir shared the stage with him. Later, after closing “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” an image of Haggard was revealed above the stage as Church raised his hand and took a few moments to look above to remember the Hag.
Church no doubt has a reverence for those who came before him while at the same time continues to carve out his own distinct path in country music. He left everything he had on the stage Thursday evening, despite suffering a cold, and urged the audience to give him the same energy.
“Tonight, I’m giving everything I have. I’m gonna try to kill you,” he said several songs into his set to screams from the audience. “I want you, to try to kill me. We are going to drink to the victory when we do. So, that being said, are you guys up for the challenge? Here’s my first punch right here.”
And with that he transformed the audience into a rowdy bar performing hit after beer soaked hit with “Drink In My Hand” as he frequently took a swig of Jack Daniel’s.
“Think you can do this for three-and-a-half hours?” he later asked after a brief intermission. “From this song to the end, it’s gonna be guns blazing. I don’t care if you work tomorrow, you’re at Church!”
Throughout his set, Church segued seamlessly from the high-energy, guitar driven tracks to the slower and sentimental. Much like his introduction, one moment he’d have the venue at church backed by a choir and the next he’d be filling up shot glasses of Jack Daniel’s for his band before performing the rollicking “Creepin’.”
Highlights throughout the evening included a beat-driven and raucous-fused “Chattanooga Lucy” off 2015’s Mr. Misunderstood which showcased Church’s falsetto alongside gritty guitar accompaniment. He’d then follow with a reinterpretation of “Two Pink Lines” off his 2006 debut Sinners Like Me.
“When we were working up rehearsals for this tour I had the idea of bringing this song back and doing it a little differently then when we cut it,” he said of the song. “It’s still one of my favorite songs and if you are a hardcore Church Choir fan than you’ll know this one.”
Church’s set spanned his decade-plus career with fans showing as much excitement for his latest single “Kill a Word” as his debut, “How ‘Bout You.” It was when he was performing the more poignant songs, like “Three Year Old” inspired by his oldest son, that fans got a closer look at The Chief.
“I’ve got two little boys,” he told the audience before performing “Three Year Old.” “I never thought I could learn so much from a kid. This song is as real as it gets for me. This song, in my entire career, is one of those that means the world to me.”
He’d follow the beautiful song with the riff-heavy “Before She Does” before segueing into fan favorite “These Boots” where hundreds of fans in the audience held up their cowboy boots and a few threw them to the stage for Church to autograph.
Church didn’t fall back on his promise to “go as long as you guys can go” and closed the show shortly before midnight. After playing several songs he hadn’t in years, he came out for an three-song encore by himself which included “Holdin’ My Own,” “Those I’ve Loved” and “Lightning.”
“I want to thank you for an incredible night,” he said at the close of his set.
By the screams of the audience throughout Church’s nearly four-hour show, it was the fans that ought to thank him for his epic, marathon headlining set.