Sinners Like Us: The Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour,
Pittsburgh Sept 15, 2012
Last night in Pittsburgh, Eric Church and Justin Moore, country music’s new bad boy vanguard, put on a master class in kicking ass. If the 13,000 capacity crowd wanted their faces rocked off with hit-after-blistering-hit, that’s exactly what they got. Apart from one girl I could see (more on her here), every single person there was a devotee of the kind of hard-living, hard-partying, leave-your-guts-on-the-floor lifestyle preached by these two ministers of Outlawism. If you remove the crutch the R leans upon, you’d be left with EPIC CHURCH, which is what the CONSOL Energy Arena turned into — one big revival tent. In case you didn’t know that’s what you’d signed up for when you bought a ticket (more on that here), then the High Priest made it clear in his opening song, “Country Music Jesus.” And boy, if you had any doubts that American music was all out of soul, then your soul was saved.
Let’s start with Justin Moore, which is always a good idea any time of day. The only thing that differentiated him from the “main act” was that his set was shorter. It needn’t have been; he could just as easily have rolled on through both his albums in their entirety and the crowd would still have not wanted him to leave the stage. Instead, he was limited to a roll-call of his singles (all hits), plus the crowd-pleaser “I Could Kick Your Ass,” which he’ll never be able to leave out of a set list for the rest of his career. The crowd belted along to every single word, sometimes drowning him out — except for those times when he switched into high gear and delivered one of his signature upper-range long notes, which are enough to prove that he’s the best male singer in country music. Perhaps that’s his real gift: it’s not just that he has the song, the look, and the attitude: dude’s got a pair of lungs and ability to deliver melody like no-one else.
This here's in a club, but you get the idea
He also knows how to work a crowd. It’s been a few years (alas) since The Inky Jukebox saw him, and he had not yet affixed his star the firmament. With some hard time touring tucked in his belt, he’s got it down to a fine art. The Inky Jukebox would have liked there to be more time in his set to deliver some of his ballads (“Like There’s No Tomorrow,” “Flyin’ Down a Back Road,” and “Outlaws Like Me” would have been nice), but we understand that when you open for someone else, your job is to whip the crowd into a frenzy with up-tempo numbers. (For the record, why did they release “Till My Last Day,” a bit of an ode to cliché as his next single instead of “Outlaws Like Me,” which is transcendently awesome?)
Moore’s covers are so good it makes you wish he’d release an album of them; his delivery of “With A Little Help From My Friends” was a perfect example of this done right — hearing a song you know inside out as if for the very first, and best, time.
Justin Moore demonstrates why he's the best singer in country music
Anyone who’s seen Eric Church before knows that when you hear the thomping strains of Clutch’s “Electric Worry” come over the PA system, he’s about to take the stage. It’s a good intro — a perfect blend of old-time stomp and metal shred, just the sort of thing Church’s band excels at.
Eric Church wants you to know that he doesn’t give a shit, a damn, or a single solitary fuck about, as he put it, “anything that’s happening outside this arena.” It’s that attitude that both sets him apart from the rest of the country pack, yet ties him to it, in the grand tradition of the old-school stars he worships. He’s unapologetic about pretty much everything he does on stage, which is a good thing. When he thumps his chest or pumps his fist in the air or gives the crowd a wide-mouthed howl, you know he means it, dammit. Eric Church can do this because Eric Church has the balls to back it up with pure talent. Does he need the bank of flamethrowers behind him, letting off great rips of fire to punctuate choruses? Of course not. But he knows this is a magic show-cum-sermon, and that tricks that make it seem the devil is biting at your heels are all part of the act.
As far as stage shows go, it’s a treat to see him finally design his own, after playing the opener for so long. The revolving backdrop of huge painted curtains doesn’t feel out of place alongside a forest of spotlights bursting from the stage, and the billowing clouds of thick smoke that illustrate “Smoke A Little Smoke” seem less a gimmick than an in-joke. He swigs his Jack Daniels from a red Solo cup just like you expect him to, and you hold on of your boots in the air like leather lighters when he sings his peon to them, “These Boots.”
The real lighters are few and far between these days; during the closer, “Springsteen,” he asks the crowd to flash their cell phones instead. Sure enough, the arena becomes a twinkling universe of screens that is a sight to behold, and you’re in no danger of getting your hair or the brim of your hat singed.
See the crowd wave their boots
In getting to call his own shots, Church delivers many things he believes in, including that whole albums deserved to be played in their entirety. This is easy for him to do, given that none of his albums contains a single fluff song. He spread every song off Chief out over the show, with liberal helpings from Carolina and Sinners Like Me along the way. It doesn’t matter if only a handful were ever singles; such are Church’s records that every song feels like it must have been a hit you sang to on the radio.
Acoustic brilliance: sing along now, y'all
Half way through, the black curtain came down on the stage, and he gave the crowd a mini, stripped down acoustic set that recalled (for The Inky Jukebox, at least) the way early YouTube videos captured him giving impromptu performances sitting on tailgates in parking lots.
Eric Church: 2009 (parking lots)
Just the man and his guitar and a song — that’s all he needed, and all he still needs. He is a good enough player to make it sounds like three guitars at once — his notes and riffs sparkly and rhythmic at the same time. You know you’re on to something good when everything else can be peeled back to the bare bones.
Eric Church: 2012 (arenas)
This is not to say that the full-on experience of the band is less satisfying: he says he “likes his country rocking / how ‘bout you?” and the answer’s an emphatic yes. At times you could be forgiven for thinking you’d wondered into a hard rock or metal show — that’s how loud they crunch and shred, fairly melting your face off in the process.
The show draws to a close with the heartfelt “Springsteen,” during which he breaks into a countrified “Born To Run,” to everyone’s delight. Behind him, a giant American flag hangs, an unsubtle notice that this country has a new hero troubadour to worship. He stood for a long time after the rest of the band left the stage, looking out at his disciples cheering. What a view he must have had.
SET LISTS (in no particular order)
How I Got To Be This Way
Small Town USA
I Could Kick Your Ass
Bait A Hook
Till My Last Day
If Heaven Wasn’t So Far Away
Drink In My Hand
Hungover And Hard Up
Country Music Jesus
I’m Getting’ Stoned
Over When It’s Over
Lotta Boot Left To Fill
Smoke A Little Smoke
Hell On The Heart
Before She Does
Sinners Like Me
How ‘Bout You
Guys Like Me
Pledge Allegiance To The Hag