When The Outsiders video came out last year I was hooked, and immediately took more notice of Eric Church than I had previously. As a lifelong fan of rock music I liked the heavier feel and put the album on pre-order the same day. I avoided reading or listening to anything about The Outsiders for months, even the full stream which became available last month. I wanted my first listen of the CD to be pure and without any influence from anyone else. That day came last Tuesday, and to say I was blown away would probably be an understatement. I immediately made plans to see Eric at O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire just a few days later, something that previous plans had prevented to that point.
Short notice meant that I had to go alone, a first for me, but no way was I going to miss this. I’d heard others say, from earlier gigs on the UK leg of the tour, that they played a few songs from the new album but mostly material from his previous 3 albums. I was a little disappointed, not because I didn’t like the older songs, but because I’d become so attached to The Outsiders I wanted to hear as many songs performed live as possible. Undeterred, I set off and promptly queued on the wrong side of the building for my level 3 seat. Hey, in all fairness the signs were minimal at most, and I was one of many who made the same mistake. My decision to wear a coat with a hood over my cooler leather jacket was a wise one, as we were rained on relentlessly while we waited.
Once inside the Empire I climbed the many stairs and found a seat just to the right of centre, about 4 rows from the front of the level 3 section. The venue is not that big so I was still pretty close, and looking down on the stage. The support band were a trio of Nashville natives called The Cadillac Three, who were loud and brash, and that part I liked. What I didn’t like was the sound set-up, which meant that from where I was sitting I could hear the guitars and drums, but the vocals were so lost I couldn’t decipher one word of the lyrics, from any of their songs. It’s a shame, because the general sound seemed like something I’d like, and I will check them out on CD, but would have liked to have experienced them properly on the night.
Eric Church and band came on stage at 8.40pm, and from the opening moments my fears of poor sound were abated, as Smoke A Little Smoke filled the venue with clarity and quality – a great combination I’m sure you’ll agree. Wearing his trademark aviator sunglasses Eric was the epitome of cool, as he played his guitar and sung the very first song I’d ever heard of his a few years ago. Within minutes I knew my solo venture was not in vein, as I grinned and sung along, but not too loud as to annoy others – I’m not one of those people.
I was far too into the music to tell you which songs came when, but what I can tell you is that a lot of The Outsiders album was played. Eric did say at the start of the gig that they were going to change up the set for this last UK gig and I for one was delighted. One of the early songs of the night was Cold One, which meant we were treated to that frenzied instrumental section which comes in at about 2 minutes 15 seconds. On CD it’s a fantastic listen, live it’s taken to another level entirely and you can’t help but want to move with the music.
I was into the music, there’s no doubt about that, but so was Mr Eric Church, who seemed to almost explode with passion and energy on that stage. I’ve seen plenty of acts who unfortunately just played, but Eric put his heart and soul into each and every performance, and gets so energised he has a fist shake, which can only be described as The Eric Church Fist Shake! His band are not background players, as each and every one with their individual style, adds to the show and is given the chance to shine. Listening back to his music post gig I can tell who is playing which part, and can even visualise those tantalising guitar riffs. It’s obvious from watching the Eric Church Band perform that they are a close nit bunch of guys who have been through this journey together and have come out the other end as a rock and roll juggernaut of musical excellence.
The crowd was so into the show, and it was nice to be among so many people, all appreciating talent that really should be more widely known than Eric Church is. Within the country music universe he’s a rising king, but his music crosses genres and has mass appeal, if played in the right places. Back to the people that were there on Sunday, and had I been with others for moral support, I too may have taken my boot off during These Boots. Eric grabbed three from front row fans, and one was thrown to the middle of the stage. Eric sat those three boots on his guitar as he sung, and then signed them before giving them back. I did wonder, for a second or two, if anyone would be disappointed to have their boot scrawled on, but common sense soon prevailed as I realised they’d be thrilled to have an Eric Church original on their foot now.
They played all my favourite songs from the new album, including That’s Damn Rock & Roll straight into Devil, Devil. We unfortunately didn’t get the Princess of Darkness prelude to that latter song, but that can be saved for another time. When they played The Outsiders I was grinning from ear to ear and it sounds every bit as good live as I’d hoped. No, actually it sounded better, as did Like Jesus Does which had become a favourite of mine this time last year. Before seeing him play live I’d never realised what an accomplished guitar player Eric is – as if he needs anything else to keep seven levels of cool above anyone else.
The regular set finished with Creepin’, another ticked off my wanted to hear list. Rather than trying to fool us with a long goodbye, he just walked off saying bye – he knew and we knew that they were coming back, why play games and pretend otherwise? Back they did indeed come, and we heard three more songs including new single Like A Wrecking Ball and then finished with crowd favourite Springsteen. The Oh Oh Oho Oh crowd participation part went on for a good few minutes and I’m sure both Eric and us fans could have stayed for another 90 minutes.
The set packed so much into that time that fans old and new would not have had any reason to be disappointed. Eric and his band were on fire in London on Sunday and are without doubt one of the top live acts around at the moment. Great songs performed with heart, passion and swagger – what more could you want? Eric was interviewed by Simon Mayo yesterday evening where he made a promise to come back and do a 20 date your – I’m holding you that, and next time I’m going to more than one show. I’d be a fool not to, and so would you.