Eric Church’s Outsiders World Tour invaded the Nation’s Capital on March 10th with a healthy helping of southern fried rock and down-home country music.
Kicking off the show was Yallternative stalwarts the Drive-By Truckers, who brought their Muscle Shoals’ inspired southern rock anthems to the Verizon Center crowd. Unfortunately, the arena was less than half empty for the majority of their performance, but those who were witness to the performance were enthralled with the band’s take on southern life, living and the colorful characters that the band brings to life through song.
Vocalists/guitarists Patterson Hood and Mike Conley traded off on lead vocals after every song for their eight-song, 40 minute set, which spanned band’s 17 years of recording. Conley’s “Uncle Frank” kicked off the show with an explosion of crunchy guitars and the band rarely took a moment to rest after, barreling through “Sink Hole,” “Made Up English Oceans,” and “The Righteous Path.” The Truckers then sandwiched a second English Oceans track “Pauline Hawkins” between two Southern Rock Opera classics “Women Without Whiskey” and “Zip City.” The Drive-By Truckers saved the best for last as Hood led the band through one of the their finest songs: “Let There Be Rock” (another Southern Rock Opera song). By this point, the now mostly full arena was hanging onto Hood’s every earnest word as he preached about how “Rock and Roll saved his life.”
The stage was now set. It was time for Church and the crowd didn’t have to pray that hard for an exceptional performance as Eric and his band of marauding brothers (and sister) took and owned the stage for the next two hours. Predictably, the show began with the menacing title track from his latest album The Outsiders. The crowd exploded just as the song did. The metal breakdown toward the end was even fiercer than on record (I have to admit, my neck was sore the next morning from headbanging so much). They kept the momentum going with the ominous “Creepin’” and then slowed it down for fan favorites “Guys Like Me” and “Carolina.”
Church then took the time to acknowledge the dedicated Verizon Center audience who came out on a Tuesday night in the name of country music, even as he gleefully joked during the introduction for “Jack Daniels:” “I got a 3-week old child at home, I don’t give a [crap] that it’s Tuesday night.” After the first chorus, a gracious member of the crowd tossed Eric a mini bottle of Jack, which he not only caught, but knocked back like a pro.
Not fully settled in, the band cruised through some more fan favorites including “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” and “Before She Does” off of Sinners like me, “Talladega,” “Drink in My Hand,” “Cold One,” and a fiery version of “That’s Damn Rock & Roll.”
“Give Me Back My Hometown” was simply transcendent as the Church Choir sang to the heavens. It was brilliant, intense and chilling. They then closed the first part of the set with fantastic versions of “Homeboy” and “Dark Side.”
When the band returned to the stage, a more diabolical “member” joined the show as a giant inflatable devil engulfed the back of the arena as they performed “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness).” The blow-up was far from ferocious, but it was a fun gesture in an almost Spinal Tap-ish way.
Carrying on, the hits continued with “Country Music Jesus,” “Smoke a Little Smoke,” and “These Boots” which had many in the crowd proudly hoisting their own boots in the air to seek Eric’s approval. I must applaud the dexterity of these fans, particularly those standing on the floor, as I’ve been known to sleep with my boots on instead of struggling to get them off after a night out on the town. Back to the hits, Eric and his band deftly kept the good times rolling with “How ‘Bout You,” “Keep On,” and “Like A Wrecking Ball.”
To close out the show, Church exclaimed, “It’s like freezing a moment in time,” as he introduced the his most celebrated song to date – “Springsteen.” Even if you’re not a Bruce fan (honestly, I can take him or leave him) all music fans can relate to the nostalgia this song brings and the crowd once again sang in chorus to every word and every “whoa, whoa, whoa oh oh” as the song climaxed toward its end. The show ended and an appreciative audience roared in support, as a gracious Eric Church smiled and thanked the crowd for an amazing evening.