By: Michael Cerio
It took thirteen trucks and nine tour buses to bring Eric Church’s ‘Holdin’ My Own Tour’ to Philadelphia Wednesday (January 25) night. However, of the ninety people on-board to help the country star fill the Wells Fargo Center, none of them were opening acts.
Tonight was all about the Mr. Misunderstood singer, bypassing other entertainers to bring the crowd two full strong sets featuring a decade-worth of hits.
“You guys know, it’s just you and me all night long” said Church winded from his first flurry of songs. “I want to try to kill you. I want you to try to kill me. Here’s to the victor” he grinned as he raised a pint.
The marathon of music started at 8:15pm as a single spotlight illuminated a mic stand along the front of the stage. In apparent tribute to Leonard Cohen, the full version of “Hallelujah” sung by Jeff Buckley played as the audience fidgeted waiting for the Chief.
Church would emerge and take center stage, strumming along to “Mistress Named Music” as his voice bounced around the Center. As the lights came up to reveal the full band along the back of the stage, the fuse was lit. An explosion of lights and sound filled the floor and delighted those packed in the pit in the center of the stage.
A video cube floating above ping-ponged shots in stark black and white of each band member, as well as the choir assembled on stage to assist with the opener. Church and company continued to ratchet up the rock with “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” and “The Outsiders” as lights swirled from all corners.
It was an early example of the shredding power of Eric Church and his band – grinding guitar power with a twang and the soaring spectacle of arena rock.
At the center of it all stood Church, dressed in a customary badass outfit with Ray-Bans, black shirt and stonewashed denim. There was no rush in the “Springsteen” singer as he strutted along the catwalk that lined the pit. His demeanor was much more bar band leader than stadium-sized rock star. He would punctuate each song with a grin and an unbelieving laugh to himself, sometimes with thankful hands clasped or a “Yes! We did it!” clenched fist.
Church would shift back and forth throughout the evening from bold freight train to intimate side-of-the-stage bottom-of-the-bottle tunes. Performances like “Round Here Buzz” awash is cool blue lights would give way to spectacular anthems in frenetic fashion like “Smoke A Little Smoke.”
That was all just the first set from Eric Church.
After a twenty minute intermission for a bathroom break and a wait in the beer line, all reconvened for another shot featuring twenty additional tunes.
Everyone seemed a little more settled in for the second set from Church, launching with the churning riff of “Ain’t Killed Me Yet.”
The tour of time continued stretching through “Two Pink Lines” to “Kill A Word.” He mused about the early days playing “a picnic in a backyard about twenty miles from here” and his set at Prospectors Steakhouse almost eight years ago.
Everything about Eric Church has grown since then. The skill and scope of this rock star playing Country music has ballooned far beyond holding his own. A capacity crowd in South Philadelphia can attest to that.
“You’re right, were not messing around tonight. We’re serious” he explained to a fan on the floor at Wells Fargo.
As Church noodled along to some Springsteen classics before launching into the namesake hit, a quick count showed that no one was “killed” and everyone was a “victor.”