Eric Church rocks for 3 hours, covers Steve Miller, in Milwaukee. And that was just the first show.
Country star Eric Church performed for three hours in Milwaukee Friday night.
And that was just the beginning.
It was night one of Church's "Double Down" tour stop at Fiserv Forum, where he's performing a pair of different two-set shows across two consecutive nights in each city. On Friday alone, Church and his six bandmates played 34 songs, not including the seven covers Church touched on during a show-closing medley in the middle of "Mistress Named Music." When he finally left the stage for the evening, it was 11:51 p.m.
That sort of generosity has earned Church a passionate fan base that filled Fiserv Forum to capacity Friday. So have his incredible live shows, with Church proving in Milwaukee there's no other country A-lister right now who's as exciting in concert as he is.
Following a full-throttle “That’s Damn Rock and Roll” that foreshadowed the damn good rock show that followed, Church ripped off those signature aviator shades to emphasize the virtues of honoring the “red, white and blue” during “How ’Bout You.” “We’re probably going to stay all night long,” he sang. “Do you feel the way I do?”
The crowd roared, and they were just getting started. With woozy, wavy guitar and soulful, falsetto-flirting croon, Church wound up the tension for “Higher Wire,” from last year's "Desperate Man" album; the sparse song finally snapping into high gear at the end, as Church’s body convulsed like he’d been struck with a cattle prod.
The first set climaxed with “Creepin’,” the swampy country rock falling away as Jeff Hyde twisted the knobs on his banjo, the deep sour notes hovering above the cheers. Gradually, the band grew louder and louder, until Church and backing singer Joanna Cotten, face to face, tried to out-wail each other, the song ending with Church leading the crowd through a belt-along, wildly genuflecting like a badass choir conductor.
The rock-show spirit continued into the second set, the show getting better and better as the night progressed.
For "Pledge Allegiance to the Hag," Church handed his cup of booze to a fan in the pit, strips of a weathered American flag from a fan draped around his shoulder. He grinned like a giddy kid, and punched the air and pounded his chest, with black-and-white pictures of late country great Merle Haggard bombarding the screens above the stage, and Driver Williams and Jeff Cease ripping into their guitars on the catwalk.
A couple of songs later Church had a special treat for the Milwaukee fans: a rollicking, never-before-performed-cover of Steve Miller Band's "Rock'n Me," a tribute to the Milwaukee-born Rock and Roll Hall of Famer. He also said the Milwaukee fans earned a special addition to the set list — the first performance in five years of "Love Your Love the Most." Despite the song being cast aside from the catalog, it's a gem, and thousands sang along to every word as Church performed it alone on acoustic guitar.
It was just one example of how Church went above and beyond to cater to the Milwaukee chapter of his "Church Choir" fan base.
He recalled his first Milwaukee show at local sports bar Kelly's Bleachers and signed a Kelly's Bleachers shirt for a fan. He also autographed cowboy boots tossed to the stage during "These Boots," vinyl copies of his records during "Record Year," and a full bottle of Jack that a fan had smuggled in.
And one fan took advantage of his generosity, refusing to let go of Church's arm as he shook hands during "Some Of It," prompting Church to let out an awkward chuckle as he wrestled free to finish his stroll along the catwalk.
Despite all this fan service, it still wasn't enough. In the middle of his signature tune "Springsteen," Church jumped off the stage and climbed up the aisle of Section 116. It seemed to take his team by surprise, based on the panicked sprint of security guards to catch up to him, and the sight of a camera guy awkwardly jumping on the catwalk to film the moment.
And just as "Rock and Roll" set the tone for the night, Church shared a story that summarized its meaning, talking about a special song that takes him back to being 18, listening to it on an amphitheater lawn in North Carolina, surrounded by the "smell of grass," whenever he hears it today.
"That's what music does. It's about transporting you to other places in your life," Church said. "Tonight is about never forgetting this, and I know this, I will never forget you, Milwaukee."
"And I ain't done yet, damn it," he added, before leading a spirited singalong that itself became an unforgettable moment.
No, he ain't done yet. And for anyone lucky enough to have tickets for night two of Church's "Double Down" run in Milwaukee, get ready for a long and wonderful night.
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- Steve Miller showed up again (specifically "The Joker") in a medley of songs in the middle of Church's concert-closing "Mistress Named Music." Also in the mix: AC/DC's "You Shook Me All Night Long," which Church said he covered as part of a dare and sang with a funny falsetto reminiscent of Adam Sandler. There was also a full rendition of "Piece of My Heart," with Cotten pushing her pipes to the max with full-blown Janis Joplin-worthy fury.
- Church said earlier in the day his 7-year-old son Boone got to shoot hoops at the Bucks' practice facility and even meet some of the players. "Dad, they told me this is the Freak's house," Church said his son told him.
- Sample banter: "For close to 15 years, Wisconsin was always a place we could count on. We'd go to places, it would be like five people, but we knew we could come back here and people would show up. As a young touring band who didn't have a lot of success anywhere else, it sustained us. It put gas in the tank, it kept us coming back, it kept building."
THE SET LIST
1. "That's Damn Rock & Roll"
2. "Desperate Man"
3. "How 'Bout You"
4. "Mr. Misunderstood"
5. "Cold One"
6. "Over When It's Over"
7. "What I Almost Was"
8. "Drink In My Hand"
10. "Higher Wire"
14. "Sinners Like Me"
15. "The Snake"
16. "Before She Does"
17. "Record Year"
19. "Pledge Allegiance To The Hag"
20. "Jack Daniels"
21. "Livin' Part Of Life"
22. "Mixed Drinks About Feelings"
23. "Rock'n Me" (Steve Miller Band cover)
24. "Piece Of My Heart" (Janis Joplin cover, sung by Joanna Cotten)
25. "Smoke A Little Smoke"
26. "Round Here Buzz"
27. "Give Me Back My Hometown"
28. "Keep On"
29. "Some Of It"
30. "These Boots"
31. "Holdin' My Own"
33. "Love Your Love The Most" (Church solo)
34. "Mistress Named Music" with medley of covers in the middle (Eagles' "Take It Easy;" Travis Tritt's "It's a Great Day To Be Alive;" Jonathan Edwards' "Sunshine (Go Away Today);" Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69;" Bob Seger's "Against The Wind;" AC/DC's "You Shook Me AllNight Long;" Steve Miller Band's "The Joker." All performed by Church solo)
Contact Piet at (414) 223-5162 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @pietlevy or Facebook at facebook.com/PietLevyMJS.
Piet also talks concerts, local music and more on "TAP'd In" with Jordan Lee. Hear it at 8 a.m. Thursdays on WYMS-FM (88.9), or wherever you get your podcasts.