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Concert Reviews:
Eric Church celebrates Bob Seger, Motown, in long show at Little Caesars

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

Posted: Saturday, February 16, 2019

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DETROIT -- Eric Church wasn't just there for a long time on Friday night, Feb. 15, at Little Caesars Arena.

He was there for a long time -- a very long time, which proved not entirely conducive to a good time.

The country star has never made a secret of his aspirations to be an epic live performer, ala Bruce Springsteen -- his first big hit was named "Springsteen," after all -- and his spectacular concert performances. But those who do that best, be it Springsteen or the Grateful Dead, Paul McCartney or Pearl Jam, carefully craft shows with dynamic, and sometimes conceptual, arcs, an ebb and flow that hits its peaks at all the right time and keeps fans engaged throughout.

By contrast, Church's three-hour (plus intermission) concert on Friday, the first of two Double Down Tour stops at Little Caesars, had a meandering, seat-of-his-pants quality, with song choices that seemed random rather than planned and an energy that too often flagged. Even though he announced "It's kick-ass time" before "Monsters" and promised "from here to the end, I'm gonna give you everything I got" two songs later, before "Jack Daniels," Church never went full-throttle, interspersing gentler fare throughout the next hour-plus.

The result was more quantity than quality, and while it's fair to say that the show -- which was broadcast live on SiriusXM -- gave plenty of bang for the buck, by the time Church rolled into the encores a good half the crowd was gone or on its way out.

That's not to say the show didn't have an abundance of solid moments -- and, in fact, there was probably an exceptional two-hour, or maybe longer, concert within Church's mass. Following what he told the crowd was a tiring afternoon fourth birthday party for his youngest son, Hawk, Church and his six-member band offered plenty of hits from his six studio albums, including "How 'Bout You," "Mr. Misunderstood," "The Outsiders," "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag" and "Desperate Man." He introduced tour premieres of "Hell on the Heart" and "Three Year Old" and performed some moving duets with backup singer Joanna Cotten, including "Mixed Drinks About Feelings" and a cover of and The Band's "The Weight."

Church, gracious and friendly throughout the show, also got up close and personal with fans as he roamed the ramp jutting out from the stage and encasing a general admission pit. He signed some vintage vinyl records from his career during "Record Day" and engaged in the usual ritual of having footwear tossed on stage during "These Boots," signing them and going three-for-three on the returns (a completion rate most NFL teams would kill for). And during "Springsteen," which closed the main set, Church ventured into the crowd on the side of the stage to promise that, "You're gonna remember this s*** forever!"

Church certainly knew where he was on Friday. He made reference to early career performances as Coyote Joe's and the Crofoot, and even The Intersection in Grand Rapids. He recalled opening for Bob Seger during the mid-00s -- "There's nobody in my career that's done more for me than when Bob took us out," Church recalled -- before playing Seger's "Roll Me Away." And Church closed the night building a solo Motown medley out of his "Mistress Named Music," rolling through bits of the Isley Brothers' "This Old Heart of Mine," the Commodores' "Nightshift," the Supremes' "Where Did Our Love Go," Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," the Temptations' "My Girl," Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On" and the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There."

By then, unfortunately, Church was playing to just a fraction of the crowd he started with, a message that more isn't necessarily better, even, in this case, when the music is very good.

Church performs again with what will likely be an entirely different show at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 16, at Little Caesars. Tickets are $39 and up. 313-471-7000 or visit 313Presents.com.

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