Eric Church is that rare type of guy who's paying tribute to Merle Haggard one minute and shooting off pyro the next.
This is the new country.
Mr. Church came walking out of the floor in a cloud of smoke and hit the stage at the nearly sold-out Consol Energy Center Saturday night with "Country Music Jesus," a song that puts out a call for a "hippie prophet who preaches from the book of Johnny Cash." Mr. Church might not fit the hippie part, but he's got the rest of that down pretty well.
He was backed by some rugged guys who looked like they were recruited from a rockabilly club and sounded like they were up for anything from honky tonk to heavy metal. They were good enough to have a name, something like Eric Church and the Sinners. There were no fiddles or steel guitars to be found, although a banjo would turn up once or twice.
They were greeted by a rowdy, beer-drinking crowd primed for songs made for a Saturday night. The tall lanky frontman, forgoing the cliched cowboy hat for a baseball cap and shades, toted a red Solo cup of whiskey while pouring out roadhouse jams "Jack Daniels," "Drink in My Hand," "Hungover and Hard Up," "Smoke a Little Smoke" and others suitable for a tour called "Blood, Sweat and Beers." He's got a versatile voice that can do thin and twangy or dip down to a nice deep baritone.
He mixed the party with some heartbreak on the solo acoustic "Over When It's Over" and "I'm Gettin' Stoned," a song about an ex getting married that comes with the inspired chorus "she's got a rock/and I'm gettin' stoned."
Church and company rocked hard on the swampy "Creepin'," (which has hints of "Copperhead Road") and the song that posed the musical question, "Yeah, I like my country rockin', how 'bout you?" The fans, who were prone to shouting "U-S-A!," responded heartily agreed. Late in the set, they gave him the one-boot salute - taking one off and holding it high - on "These Boots."
Along with the clever songs and energetic delivery, one of the things that makes Mr. Church so likable is how much of a fan he is himself. In addition to Johnny Cash and George Strait shout-outs and the cover of Hank Jr.'s "A Country Boy Can Survive," he rocked through "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag," a tribute to Merle Haggard that might send a few of those younger country-rock fans back to the old country outlaw.
And then there's "Springsteen." On Saturday night, he climaxed the set with his biggest hit and extended it beautifully by shoehorning a piece of "Born to Run" into the melody. There was no lawn and no stars, but for plenty of couples inside the Consol that melody will be a great memory.
Opening the show were a pair of unrelated Moores. Kip highlighted his set with his No. 1 hit "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck." Justin's had the energy of headlining set, starting with his plea for "Guns" and moving on to such anthems as "Small Town USA" and "Backwoods," plus a cover of "With a Little Help from My Friends." He told the crowd, "I've been up here a few times and I'll tell you, there's more rednecks here than anywhere in the world!"
So, we'll take that as a compliment?Eric Church set listCountry Music JesusGuys Like MeHell On The HeartPledge Allegiance To The HagHow 'Bout YouCarolinaI'm Gettin' StonedJack DanielsHungover & Hard UpCreepin'Before She DoesOver When It's OverSinners Like MeLove Your Love The MostDrink In My HandLotta Boot Left To FillA Country Boy Can Survive/HomeboyEncore:Smoke A Little SmokeThese BootsSpringsteen music - musicreviews
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org or at 412-263-2576. First Published September 16, 2012 2:15 PM