by Bill Paddack
Chances are excellent 2017 is going to be, um, a record year for Eric Church.
In 2016, he won the CMA album of the year award for “Mr. Misunderstood” – the same honor he earned in 2012 for “Chief” – and finished up his "Outsiders World Tour," which hit more than 65 cities and played to almost a million fans. Not bad at all, but he figures to top that this year.
In January he launched his "Holdin’ My Own" Tour, which, if the Arkansas stop Saturday night in North Little Rock was any indication, seems destined to pack arenas across the country for what could be called all Eric, all the time. Or, as he put it, “It’s just us. Ain’t nobody else coming out.”
His ever-present trademark aviator sunglasses in place, he kept a sellout crowd of 16,706 ecstatic for more than three hours in a pair of sets with an intermission of about 20 minutes in between. With no opening act, it was just Church music, his own brand of country that some call outlaw country and others country rock.
Whatever you call it, hurtin’ never sounded as good as it does on “Record Year,” his recent No. 1 hit on the Country Airplay chart. It’s Church at his best. He sings about a guy using old vinyl albums – and more than a little alcohol – to help soothe the pain of a failed romance. Those in the packed house at Verizon, of course, knew every word – “since you had to walk on outta here, I’ve been havin’ a record year” – much to the delight of The Chief himself.
The evening’s highlights included the up-tempo "Drink in My Hand," his first No. 1 single, about drinking to forget your problems, and the anti-hate ballad “Kill a Word” along with “Talladega,” “Cold One,” “Keep On” and his opener, “Mistress Named Music.” And for sure there was the terrific, crowd-pleasing “Springsteen,” his first megahit, a bittersweet account of a young romance with a tip of a trucker’s cap to one of his idols, Bruce Springsteen.
A lot of fans wore their boots to Church Saturday night and waved them in the air to the strands of “These Boots” late in the show. Church gathered up a few of them up, holding them as he sang and then autographing them before returning them to their owners, including one very excited young fan.
Perhaps it was the energy and obvious pleasure he drew from concertgoers, as well as a little Jack Daniels late in the show, that kept him going. By around 11:30, most country concerts are long over, but not this one. After a brief pause and a hearty “I love you, Little Rock,” he closed out the evening with a three-song encore of “Holdin’ My Own,” “Sinners Like Me” and “Those I’ve Loved.”