It's called the Double Down Tour. Because country superstar Eric Church is playing two consecutive weekend nights in 19 cities, promising different set lists on Friday and Saturday.
On Friday at Target Center, "Double Down" could have had two different meanings — the temperature being double digits down below zero and Church doubling the sellout crowd's pleasure in the second set.
"You came back like champs at halftime," he declared a few songs after intermission. "The second half, this is where you win games."
And that he did. The 41-year-old North Carolina native was looser, more spirited and just more fun after the break. He skipped along the square runway extending from the stage, unleashed powerhouse backup singer Joanna Cotten and discovered his inner party animal.
The first half lacked momentum, with Church and his six-person band seeming like a human jukebox delivering some well-crafted rock-flavored country songs about small-town life and American values. At best, it was "solid," which, coincidentally, was the title of the first song in the second set.
The first set could best be described by the title of another Church song, "Hippie Radio." He introduced that number from his sixth and current album, "Desperate Man," by reminiscing about riding around in his dad's beige Pontiac, listening to Kansas, Billy Idol and LaBelle.
In fact, "hippie radio" also was an apt description for the highlight of the 70-minute, 14-song opening set — a solo acoustic guitar version of Church's mission statement, "Mistress Named Music," framed around a medley of old favorites by Hall & Oates, Carole King, Bob Seger, Travis Tritt, Bob Dylan (a perfectly pinched nasally "Blowin' in the Wind") and Prince (a creditable falsetto reading of "Kiss").
Enough about the opening set. Church came out on fire in the second half, with the giant singalongs "Give Me Back My Hometown" and "Record Year," during which he autographed vinyl album covers handed to him from the crowd.
He knew how to ignite the 15,000 fans by recalling his gig at the Cabooze bar in Minneapolis in 2005. "To this day, it's one of the best shows we've ever done," he proclaimed mid-song.
Vocally, Church had more oomph in the 1¾-hour second half, though his nasally twang would probably never earn him a best male vocalist at any country-music award shows. He was certainly boosted by Cotten, who stirred up the crowd with her potent pipes more effectively than Church did by singing "Jack Daniels" or mentioning ol' Jack in one of his songs.
Not the most animated or demonstrative male performer in country music, the superstar with the signature shades used some smart visuals. Typically, his stage was bathed in a wash of a single color, such as green for "Smoke a Little Smoke" (it's not about tobacco). Moreover, Church employed a three-tiered video screen, with each part of the triptych sometimes flying at a different level and showing a different visual, including righthanded guitarists inexplicably playing lefthanded.
Ultimately, though, going to Church is about lyrics that hit home like your favorite Sunday morning verse. Take "These Boots," during which he gets nostalgic about his pair of boots that have danced with the devil, hidden from the cops with him and failed to stomp out his foolish pride. Key line: "I've worn out more souls than I can recount."
And during the song, Church collected solo boots from fans, paraded around the stage with the footwear and eventually autographed them. He threw them back into the crowd, but who knows if they got returned to the sender. Hopefully those folks doubled down on warm clothes.