Country superstar Eric Church, whose breakthrough hit was called “Springsteen,” has borrowed something else from The Boss: the marathon concert.
Church, a Nashville maverick who has always done things his way, is eschewing opening acts on his current Holdin’ My Own Tour, which visited soldout Target Center in Minneapolis on Friday. Church was in session for more than three hours, covering 37 songs and short sermons about his two young sons and previous Twin Cities gigs at the Cabooze and the State Theatre.
Can I get an amen? Or at least a timeout?
Bruce Springsteen typically delivered 34 songs per show on his tour last year. Paul McCartney served up 39 tunes nightly, and George Strait has been doing 33 or 34 at his recent Las Vegas gigs. But McCartney has recorded 526 songs, according to one source, while Springsteen has recorded 314 and Strait has scored 45 No. 1 country songs.
By comparison, Church, 10 years into his career, has seven No. 1 country songs and 57 songs on five albums. In other words, he’s no Springsteen. Or Strait. Not yet, anyway.
But that didn’t matter to the members of the Church Choir, the singer’s fan club that packed Target Center some 19,000 strong.
During Friday’s first set, Church, known as “Chief” to his fans, playfully taunted the faithful about endurance and enthusiasm: “I’ll try to kill you or you try to kill me. We’ll see who does it.”
The 39-year-old slayed the crowd with enthusiasm, endurance and a cavalcade of sensitive ballads and party tunes. His twangy voice could be tender or aggressive — and equally passionate in both modes. Even though he’s not the most physical performer, his energy never flagged, and when he flashed a crooked smile, it drove the women wild.
Was it ironic that he opened the second set with “Ain’t Killed Me Yet,” a blue-collar anthem driven by hard-rock power chords?
Like Springsteen, Church offers lots of blue-collar themes like hard work, Jack Daniels and support for the red, white and blue. He peppers his lyrics with plenty of pop culture references, including hip things like Elvis Costello and Jackson Pollock, redneck things like Talladega and Hank Jr., and universal things like apple pie and, well, Springsteen.
Church is a clever songwriter, as evidenced on the recent hit “Record Year,” which received a rousing reaction Friday.
He sings about how his lover left him so he hung out with albums by Stevie Wonder, George Thorogood, George Jones, James Brown and Willie Nelson. So he owes her a beer for his record year.
That number is featured on his latest album, “Mr. Misunderstood,” which won Church the CMA prize for album of the year last fall, his second such CMA trophy. In fact, he did pretty much all the songs from that album (which the maverick marketer mailed direct to his fan club members without any advance notice before releasing it elsewhere). By comparison, he did relatively few songs from 2014’s bestselling “The Outsiders,” which was a sonic outlier with electronica, hip-hop and metallic sounds.
Nonetheless, Church’s guitar-heavy band rocked hard, especially on the hand-clapping, foot-stomping “Smoke a Little Smoke,” the snarling, noisy “Outsiders” and the funky “Chattanooga Lucy.” Even the ballads packed a wallop, with loud drums on “Carolina” and “Round Here Buzz.”
Nothing connected more effectively than “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” a salute to both the flag and Hag (it rhymes), namely the late, great Merle Haggard. There’s no question that Church’s music owes much to Haggard and Hank Jr. and various rock heroes like Seeger and Springsteen.
In fact, despite banjo seasoning, “Give Me Back My Hometown” seemed a tip of the hat, in content, sound and delivery to Springsteen. For one of the few times all night, Church charged around the stage, emphatically punching the air, showing the Chief can be the boss.