Independence Township,Michigan (June 23,2023)-Eric Church throughout his career has been the standard for live performances in country music. In fact, he has been compared by many as being the Bruce Springsteen of the genre with his lengthy performances that often have segued into the early morning hours of the following day. Friday night at the Pine Knob Music Theatre there was no three hour music marathon but something new and invigorating from the man fondly known as “Chief” that should take his long time concert fans about three songs to adjust to.
Near the outset of the two-hour and 15-minute concert ,his ever first performance ever at the amphitheater and second stop of his The Outsiders Revival Tour, Church promised “this is gonna be a little different tonight, but it’s gonna be…badass” and to maybe spoil it a bit, he wasn’t wrong. The idea was that the guy who for years has primarily toured in arenas and presented three-hour plus, multi night-long epic performances could trim things down for a more intimate outdoor amphitheater settings while adhering to local noise ordinances to have a cleared stage by 11 p.m., usually about the time in his set the arena based concerts have really started to take off. But remember this is Eric Church, the O.G. Outsider…a guy that does things his way…and also a previous CMA Entertainer of the Year that traditionally has played until HE says he is done.
The Outsiders Revival Tour is a hybrid concept for both Church and his fans alike. Some long standing followers are sure to be disappointed by the shortened show length, but what this country Icon has done is develop a setlist that keeps fans glued to their seat for two plus hours of pure Eric Church at his finest, but with a twist. Sometimes a little less turns out to be a whole lot more and that creed held true Friday night with Church. While he can never be accused of not giving fans what they want, his arena performances have sometimes been legendary to a fault. Although supported by a sturdy repertoire from his eight albums, some arena mainstays were notably absent Friday such as “These Boot’s” and “Record Year.” Both time consuming and long during his arena shows, there was no place in tonights affair for an extended band strumming and autograph session which in the past has encompassed 20 plus minutes. Reining it in on Friday, even if he went up against a costly curfew, Church and his 12-piece band were more immediate and impactful, almost playing with a sense of urgency with plethora of surprises that added vibrancy and freshness to Church’s familiar sound.
As mentioned the expanded 12-piece band itself is a new endeavor and serious game changer that takes the sonic experience to a whole new level. Church threw out the status quo by augmenting his usual touring band with three backup singers and a three-piece horn section. The expanded stage presence brought new textures and flavors to many of the 25 songs, from the rhythmic arrangement of the opener “Chattanooga Lucy” to the funky soil take on “Bad Mother Trucker,” a jazz infused revue style play-through of “Hangin’ Around” and a Zydeco/Caribbean vibe to “Drink in My Hand.” But Church didn’t forget his roots and held fast to tradition with a more pronounced, contemporary feel to Friday’s rendition of “Country Music Jesus,” while “Give Me Back My Hometown” started quietly and built into the muscular anthem it is before settling back down for its conclusion.
As has become a Church tradition when he plays the Motor City, he paid tribute to Bob Seger during a story he reminisced , reminding the standing crowd how the Detroit rock icon stepped in 2006 after Rascal Flatts removed Church from their tour as an opener. “I would not be here at all if it weren’t for Bob Seger,” Church proclaimed, who ironically or smartly planned was wearing a Bob Seger T-shirt. “The next phone call we got was Bob Seger, and it went something to the effect of, ‘You can’t open for them, but you can open for me,’ so that’s what we did,” and the rest, as his storied career attests, is history. Church and then band then rolled through an epic eight-song, 12-minute medley of Seger that he and the band put together for, as he told the story, “A one time only and never to be performed again..,” of scintillating covers of “Turn the Page,” “Like a Rock,” “Roll Me Away,” “Mainstreet,” “Get Out of Denver,” “You’ll Accomp’ny Me,” “Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” and finishing up with “Night Moves.”
Other highlights of the night included a guest duet with opening act Ashley McBryde during “Mixed Drinks About Feelings,” a cover of Little Feat’s “Sailin’ Shoes” and an extended performance of “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” performed in front of a large American flag and giving most of the horn section, most notably a particularly animated, trombonist Roy Agee, room to stretch out at stage front that had the staunchest old school Eric Church fans dancing in the aisles .
There were plenty of other Church favorites throughout the night that fans could hang their hat from, including “Mr. Misunderstood,” “Heart Like a Wheel,” “Homeboy,” “Smoke a Little Smoke” and an acoustic version “Springsteen,” that featured a solo Church, under a lone spot light laying it all out in front of 15000 swaying fans.
Nearing the end of his main set Church told the long sold-out Pine Knob Amphitheatre crowd, many still dripping from the day’s rain that finally stopped by the time he hit the stage around 9:05 p.m., that “There’s a certain time we’re supposed to get done — but I’m not gonna do that. Apologies to the local community here.” In typical Church style, then played until about 11:15, adding favorites such as “Talladega” which ultimately was requested my a young fan holding a sign near the stage and which Church acknowledged by pointing at the fan and announcing that “We weren’t going to play this tonight but this for you,” along with a mesmerizing acoustic performances of “Holdin’ My Own” and “Sinners Like Me,” post-curfew and incurring Independance Township’s (in)famous $1,000-per-minute overtime fine.
Friday was only the second stop of The Outsiders Revival Tour and the fans on hand got a glimpse into an artist thats never satisfied and always strives to give his fans what they want plus more. Sure, he will be chastised for trimming his 3 1/2-hour performances to a more manageable time frame by fans and nay-sayers alike. Sometimes less is more and what Eric Church has done is eliminated the fat and created a lean two-hour performance that is every bit as good and dare say better than what we have seen in the past. Its a new and welcomed chapter in the career of the country legend and for that we say well done Mr. Church, well done.