For Friday’s Grand Rapids tour stop on his ‘Gather Again’ tour, country star Eric Church uncorked his mix of ‘Country Music Jesus,’ ‘That’s Damn Rock & Roll’ and ‘Smoke a Little Smoke’ for enthused fans.
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Sporting shades and draped in mostly black – save for the American flag draped around his neck – Eric Church looked like a stage-coach outlaw shooting riffs out of his Gibson Hummingbird acoustic guitar.
With the stage set in the round, die-hard fans throughout the arena were able to catch a glimpse of Church as he traced the perimeter of the stage — and also watch him on gigantic screens hanging overhead.
Revelers in the capacity crowd at Van Andel Arena on Friday night raised their drinks and sang along while Church paraded around with his star-spangled scarf.
Despite distracting banter from the audience, the musicality and showmanship on stage as part of “The Gather Again Tour” proved to be a spectacle.
With a rollicking six-piece band, the sonic elements ranged from driving rock anthems with gloriously harmonized guitar solos, to groovy, near-psychedelic soundscapes.
Another highlight arrived with fan-favorite “Smoke a Little Smoke,” a hypnotic number with four on the floor and its head in the clouds.
The set’s most intoxicating moment (aside from an overall message of letting loose) is when Church dropped almost an entire octave and delivered the velvety (dare I say…sexy?) chorus: “Drink a little drink, smoke a little smoke.” Attendees had no issue putting action to the song’s lyrical revelry.
Then came a swampy, halftime breakdown that echoed throughout the arena with indulgent electric guitar distortion.
One of the evening’s most sincere moments appeared with “Rock & Roll Found Me,” a tale about the sweet salvation and saving grace of rock. Emerging from the settling dust of a rambling drum groove and luxurious guitar tones, Church joyfully proclaimed: “I turned on my amps and all at once my blind could see.”
Perhaps the most peculiar event of the evening came when droves of fans took their shoes off and reached for the sky during “These Boots.” Accentuated by a gorgeous piano interlude, a plethora of footwear – in all shapes and sizes – soared overhead their owners. Silhouettes of classic cowboy boots, tennis shoes and loafers were washed out in the arena spotlights, basking in a momentary taste of the limelight.
If a “barn burner” equates to the amount of kinetic energy found in the confines of a single composition, then “Creepin’” would have leveled a boomtown within a few bars.
Other highlights included the acoustic-driven, ode to misfits, “Mr. Misunderstood,” and “Talladega,” a scorcher with epic guitar solos and distinguished growl of a B3 organ.
One of the final songs of the evening, “Drowning Man,” offered a slow burn. Pinned down by rhythmic strums and an infectious backbeat, as well as the percussive trappings of a steady shaker, the song eventually evolved into yet another crescendo of roaring guitar solos, captured in all its glory on the big screen.
Further solidifying his role as the conductor of good times and giving a green light to imbibe, Church — who began his career by playing regularly at The Intersection in Grand Rapids — addressed the audience near the end of the evening: “Grand Rapids! If y’all with me, pour some whiskey!”
PHOTO GALLERY: Eric Church at Van Andel Arena
Photos by Jim Hill
SET LIST: Eric Church at Van Andel Arena
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