by Julian Spivey
Eric Church brought his epic Holdin’ My Own Tour to North Little Rock’s Verizon Arena on Saturday, Feb. 4. The tour which features Church performing two sets with an intermission in between is three hours of terrific music from mainstream country music’s finest modern performer.
Church fits almost 40 songs into his mind-blowing three hour set that really should have the CMA and ACM Award winner being compared as his genre’s Bruce Springsteen. This tour also goes to show how ridiculous and unbelievable it is that Church has never taken home an Entertainer of the Year honor at either major country music awards show.
Most artists don’t typically begin shows with something sort of quiet and easy-going, but Church made the brilliant decision to do just that in beginning his show with the fitting “Mistress Named Music” from his most recent album Mr. Misunderstood, released in late 2015. You could tell watching and listening to Church that he’s almost controlled by his music. It’s something he needs and his fans feed off it so nicely.
Church turned things up a bit following the opener with a couple of the loudest songs in his repertoire – “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” and “The Outsiders.” Neither are particularly favorites of mine, but it was a great way to get the packed Verizon Arena crowd into the show.
My favorite early segment performance came next with “Knives of New Orleans” off Mr. Misunderstood, which is a Springsteen-esque tale of a killer and the subsequent manhunt for him. It’s one of the great story songs in recent country music history and shows just why Church is ahead of the game as far as his genre is concerned.
The great thing about Church going out on tour by himself without any openers and being able to play two full sets is that he’s able to pepper his set list with all his hits, which have been mounting steadily since his first album was released just over a decade ago, and non-singles alike.
This luxury allows fans to hear hits like “Drink in My Hand,” “How ‘Bout You,” “Like a Wrecking Ball” and “Cold One” mixed in with deep record cuts like “Carolina,” “Lotta Boot Left to Fill” and “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” that hardcore fans really love. In fact, “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” performed late during the first set was one of my favorite moments of the night (I wore my Haggard shirt to the show) and Church paid tribute to Merle Haggard by showing his face on the big screen at the song’s completion. I’ve seen him perform the song in concert before, but this was the first time since Merle’s death last April, which made it even more emotional.
Among my other favorite performances during Church’s first set were “Talladega,” “Smoke a Little Smoke,” which he ended the set with, and “Mr. Misunderstood,” the title track from his most recent album. “Mr. Misunderstood” really speaks to me as both a music lover and someone who feels like an outcast, especially when it comes to my musical tastes. But, it was nice to be in a room seeing Church perform it with others who no doubt feel the same way.
This does bring me to my one complaint about the show and it has absolutely nothing to do with Church or his music. I don’t typically bring up concert issues that have nothing to do with the artist’s performance, but Verizon Arena has a bad reputation for me (mostly during the country music shows) of having frankly piss-poor audiences. Most of the crowd seemed to be having a blast, but unfortunately the section I was in was filled with people ranging from assholes who seemingly didn’t want to be there and were dragged to the venue by their significant others to people who just wanted to drink or spend time on their smart phones. If you don’t want to attend a concert for the music please don’t go and let the real music lovers among us enjoy it.
Anyway, back to the amazing show.
The second set of the concert featured a lot of great performances from Mr. Misunderstood, which Church performed every track of during the night, including “Chattanooga Lucy,” the beautiful “Three Year Old” and “Mixed Drinks About Feelings,” with excellent help from backup singer Joanna Cotten.
Cotten also provided stellar backing help on Church’s most recent single “Kill a Word,” which he forgot some of the words to during the performance, which you can’t really blame him with the song being as wordy as it is. His performance of “Record Year,” the previous single off Mr. Misunderstood, was another great highlight of the second set.
The second set, which featured at least 20 songs, included terrific performances of hits like “Give Me Back My Hometown,” “Creepin’” and “Homeboy,” which all seemed to be fan-favorites. Another great moment was the non-single “These Boots,” from Church’s 2006 debut Sinners Like Me, which has become a staple at his live shoes with longtime fans taking off their boots and hoisting them into the air for the entirety of the performance.
Church finished his second set with my favorite song of his “Springsteen,” with an intro of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” before it. Not only do I love the song as a huge fan of Springsteen, but the fact that he often intros or outros it with Springsteen songs (last time I saw him do it with “Born to Run”) is a cherry on top.
Church left the stage to uproarious applause, before returning a few moments later for a terrific, mostly solo three song encore of “Holdin’ My Own,” “Sinners Like Me” (another personal favorite of mine) and “Those I’ve Loved” as his fitting finisher to a great night of at times raucous and at times introspective music.
Church proved in Little Rock on Saturday night why he’s one of the few greats currently in the genre of country music. His songwriting and music is just a cut above the rest.