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Concert Reviews:
Eric Church proves a deserving headliner at Joe Louis Arena

for Journal Register Newspapers

Posted: Friday, October 5, 2012

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DETROIT -- Kid Rock may fancy himself a rock 'n' roll diety, but Eric Church wants to be the "Country Music Jesus."

And while we may not necessarily need the salvation and deliverance Church promises in that song, he proved during his 100 minutes on stage Thursday night, Oct. 4, at Joe Louis Arena that he's ready for prime time.

Church is certainly as hot as the fire that billowed from the stage during the opening number of the 21-song show. He's riding a streak of three Top 10 country albums -- the latest of which, 2011's "Chief," hit No. 1 -- and 10 Top 10 singles. The lanky North Carolina native didn't sell out the Joe as part of his first arena headlining tour, but the size of the crowd that did show up assured that his success is no fluke.

Perhaps more importantly, it's an audience that's dug into Church's music well beyond those hits. The Church ladies and dudes were singing along to album tracks -- like "Country Music Jesus," "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag," "Over When It's Over," "Lotta Boot Left to Fill" and "Keep On" -- with as much enthusiasm as they belted out chart-topping smashes such as "Springsteen" and "Drink In My Hand." And they've turned "These Boots" into a kitschy crowd participation moment where many hold up their own footwear as a salute (kinda makes you happy he didn't write a song called, oh, "These Thongs"), with Church picking one to hold up on stage during the final verse before signing it for the fan.

Throughout the night, meanwhile, Church demonstrated an offhanded kind of charisma. He's not a mover like Kenny Chesney or Toby Keith, but on Thursday -- following spirited opening sets by Justin Moore and Kip Moore (who curried favor with a bit of Bob Seger's "We've Got Tonight") -- Church exuded a confidence and intensity simply by standing at his microphone, playing acoustic guitar and sporting his trademark baseball cap and shades. His five band members had their rock star poses down pat, however, and an array of large banners at the rear of the stage, occasional pyrotechnics and, during "Creepin'," lasers, kept the show visually engaging.

Church can certainly pull the heart strings with songs such as "Love Your Love the Most" and "Homeboy," but he mostly comes to party -- it's not called the Blood, Sweat & Beers Tour for no reason, after all. That certainly resonated on Thursday, with kegs situated as stage decorations and a set list dominated by rowdy good-time anthems such as "Guys Like Me," "I'm Gettin' Stoned," the honky tonkin' "Jack Daniels," "Hungover and Hard Up," "Sinners Like Me" and the crunchy "Smoke a Little Smoke." Church's three-song solo acoustic set included a cover of Sammy Johns' 1973 hit "Chevy Van," and Church used Hank Williams Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive" to introduce his own "Homeboy."

And the show-closing "Springsteen," with Church alternating piano and guitar and slipping in a bit of "Born To Run," was a dazzling star turn, a final notice that Church has made his entrance into country's top plateau and doesn't plan on leaving any time soon.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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