After three days of incredible performances on the main stage, the moment finally came for the last act to grace the stage last night. The headliner was the ‘bad boy’ of Country music Eric Church and having never seen him live before I was unsure what to expect. Prior to the show I saw an elderly lady wearing a t-shirt that said ‘I drink, I smoke, I go to see Eric Fuckin’ Church’ and Kacey Musgraves had told press about the contrast of her shows to his, which she promised was covered in skulls and darker motifs.
Earlier in the day Church decided to rest rather than speak to the press after falling ill during his European tour and worrying if his voice was going to hold up for his headline show. Like a trooper he arrived on stage, a little after his advertised stage time, and he kicked things off with Knives of New Orleans. Vocally it took Church a little time to get into the groove and that can be forgiven as he was under the weather.
Performance wise the songs largely represented his latest album Mr. Misunderstood along with a selection of his biggest hits. The audience seemed to know the words to every song and during These Boots, people were throwing their boots at him on the stage. He picked up a couple and signed them before chucking them back into the audience.
There was a real disconnect between Church’s supposed ‘bad boy’ stylings and his actual music. Much of the set sat around the mid-tempo area with acoustic guitars driving the melodies. From the sight of the skulls everywhere and references to Jack Daniels, you could be forgiven for wondering what the ‘bad boy’ label is all about. Honestly Church didn’t need that distraction as he has enough good music to carry his show without the bravado.
Despite being under the weather, Church still played for around 100 mins and he quickly moved from one song to another. At times the set list was a little samey and towards the middle things got a little generic. One song seeped into another and sometimes it was hard to tell the difference. Chattanooga Lucy was a welcome change in tempo, and one of the highlights of the night, as was Church’s mash-up of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark and his own hit Springsteen.
Paying homage to his child on closing number Three Year Old, the set ended on a sweet note, which made the skulls and alcohol and weed references all that more odd.
Church clearly has a loyal and large fanbase (they’re known as the Church Choir) but I’m afraid to say that his set didn’t quite do it for me last night. There were moments where I really connected to his performance but they were few and far between. Perhaps it was because he was under the weather, or maybe he’s simply not quite my cup of tea, but I noticed around the arena that a fair amount of people started leaving only half way through his set (something Church pointed out himself). After blistering headlines performances from Carrie Underwood and Miranda Lambert, dare I say that Church was a little bit of a disappointment?
Set List: 1. Knives of New Orleans 2. Cold One 3. Creepin’ 4. Drink in My Hand 5. Give Me Back My Hometown 6. Mr. Misunderstood 7. Talladega 8. That’s Damn Rock’n’Roll 9. Homeboy 10. Like a Wrecking Ball 11. Mistress Named Music 12. Lotta Boot Left to Fill 13. Chattanooga Lucy 14. These Boots 15. Record Year 16. Smoke a Little Smoke 17. Jack Daniels 18. Dancing In The Dark / Springsteen 19. Three Year Old Performance Date: Sunday 13th March 2016