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Concert Reviews:
Eric Church goes long at the Palace on Saturday night

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, February 26, 2017

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AUBURN HILLS -- Eric Church not only sings about "Springsteen."

He wants to play like him, too.

Like Bruce Springsteen's vintage shows, Church's concert on Saturday night, Feb. 25, at The Palace -- before a rare full-arena sell-out crowd of more than 20,000 -- was a lengthy (three hours and 10 minutes of music, plus a 20-minute intermission), generous and varied immersion into the country star's catalog. Church may be considered a country star, and there was certainly plenty of twang during the 39-song show. But it also established he's much more with a repertoire that swept from the dramatic rock of "Knives Of New Orleans," the smooth, sophisticated arrangements of "Carolina" and "Homeboy," or the soulful ambience of "Like A Wrecking Ball."

The North Carolina native displayed a strong sense of place on Saturday, too. He talked about early shows in the metro area -- playing acoustically at Coyote Joe's in Shelby Township, opening for Hank Williams, Jr. at the DTE Energy Music Theatre, headlining the Royal Oak Music Theatre. Church and his six-piece band also paid homage to Bob Seger with a rough-and-tumble rendition of "Ramblin' Gamblin' Man," calling the local legend "one of my heroes" and noting that after opening shows for Seger early on "in a lot of ways I kinda owe him my career."

Church did not ape Springsteen wholesale of course. The easygoing, Chief -- in his dark shades, black T-shirt, jeans and boots -- doesn't have quite the same force-of-nature energy as The Boss. Nor was Saturday's show designed with the kind of thematic grandeur that marks Springsteen's opuses. And truth be told, there was probably a tighter and more impactful two-hour show to be whittled from the ambitious expanse of what Church offered on Saturday.

But there was no doubting Church gave all as he carefully spread his biggest hits -- "Drink In My Hand," "Talladega," "Record Year," "Creepin'," "Smoke A Little Smoke" -- throughout the night, digging in for plenty of deeper cuts and fan favorites. He brought his 2006 single "Two Pink Lines" back into the show, and rockers such as "Chattanooga Lucy," "Ain't Killed Me Yet," "How 'Bout You," "Pledge Allegiance To The Hag" and the banjo-driven "Give Me Back My Hometown" were well suited for a Saturday night show where the beer lines on the concourse were nearly impenetrable.

"These Boots" was accompanied by the usual spectacle of fans holding their boots and other footwear aloft, and Church signed a few towards the end of the song. And the show finished not with a bang but heartfelt whisper; After a rendition of "Springsteen" that included a snippet of "Born To Run," Church played a four-song solo acoustic encore, sharing a "just me and you" moment before concluding with a gentle "Lightning."

Early on Church promised that "in the end we're gonna remember this night." And he was likely right. It may have been a big bite, but you'll find few country singers -- or artists of any kind -- taking on that kind of show, and making it work more often than not.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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