Like most Top 40 country stars, Eric Church is backed by the unstoppable force of hometown nostalgia and a classic rock approach to the live side of his music. For the Vancouver portion of the Holdin' My Own Tour, Church gave concertgoers an entire — albeit possibly too long — evening of all his hits and some album filler, sans an opening act.
Kicking off the evening a half an hour late, Church began by paying tribute to the late Leonard Cohen with a rousing rendition of "Hallelujah," despite not actually being visible onstage. When Church finally appeared on the large oval shaped stage, complete with his now-iconic shades and toting a beer cup with his choice descriptor "Chief" sprawled on it, he soaked in the deafening applause for a moment, then ripped into "Mistress Named Music," accompanied by a small dancing choir. What followed in the remaining hours of Tuesday night (March 14) were too many songs to list.
This was a concert for fans; a jukebox listening session, mostly, rather than a performance. As far as visual stimulus goes, Church undoubtedly relied on his rocking backing band for the bulk of the evening's energy. Church's discography is impressive, with memorables like "Homeboy," "Carolina," party favourite "Smoke a Little Smoke" and "That's Damn Rock & Roll" feeding the fun flame at Rogers Arena.
Vocal backings and duet spots with Joanna Cotton (pictured in the photo above) gave Church's sound a different kind of quality from the records that really worked in a live setting. Sound-wise, Church was at his best, and his down-home drawl and stage swagger were endearing, but that was all the audience got on the night; performance-wise, the evening was fairly dry. Concertgoers might as well have just put his records on and watched him walk around.
After playing a well-received acoustic set in Calgary last week due to production issues following a heavy snowfall, it felt like something of a shame that Church couldn't bring that same intimacy to Vancouver. Last month's Dierks Bentley concert at the Rogers Arena showed a much higher level of energy, while on Tuesday night, Church's feedback to the "best damn crowd" mostly consisted of standing in awe of their cheering and saying, "You guys feel like you can hang with me tonight? This is Vancouver, and this is my home tonight!"
Still, Vancouver as the last stop of the Canadian portion of the tour showed Church a very appreciative audience, and he played loveable hits like "Guys Like Me," "Record Year" and "Drink In My Hand" across his two sets and encore. The audience certainly made "Give Me Back My Hometown" theirs, and one could see friends and couples bonding over the lyrics that have become such a staple on the country music airwaves.
It was nice to hear Church perform a cover of the Band's "It Makes No Difference," too, rather than another country singer's song, like most of his peers do. With the high-quality "Springsteen," Church has solidified himself as both a country star and a rock'n'roll artist, and it fits him nicely.
In the end, fans were happy. But as Church's career carries on past his current six albums, he'll need to bring more personality to his shows besides a charming smile and a "cheers."