SAN FRANCISCO — You can’t fault country superstar Eric Church for a lack of ambition. The 42-year old outlaw has dubbed his current trek the Double Down Tour for good reason. His two-set performance at Chase Center went the distance with 31 songs and roughly three hours of live music split by only a 20-minute intermission.
With the new arena concluding its first month of concerts, the Grammy-winning artist became the first country musician to play there. Saturday night’s show was also a first for Church.
“We got to talking before the show today [and] I realized I’ve never properly played the city of San Francisco in my entire career,” Church said early on in the show.
Church certainly made up for lost time. The lack of an opener wasn’t a detriment to the Chase Center’s energy, with Church taking the stage in his signature leather jacket and aviator sunglasses to the building acoustic bass notes and soaring power chord strumming of newer track “Knives of New Orleans.” That led into the upbeat stomping harmonies of the title track off his latest release, 2018’s Desperate Man.
Church is tough to pin down; while he’s generally considered a country artist, that designation really doesn’t tell the whole story. His music and live show are a collage of influences from outlaw country to roots rock, heavy metal and Americana. Lyrically, Church again defies country convention, opting for storytelling through a wide frame of subject matter and perspective.
Church slipped a cover of Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” into “How ‘Bout You” before moving into the introspective “Mr. Misunderstood.” He was the heartbeat that pumped blood through his stellar six-member band, who get ample opportunities throughout the course of the show to show their own skills. An extended slide guitar intro led into the swinging country slam of “Cold One,” a song that includes both a rockabilly double-time breakdown into a halftime groove that created a trippy dichotomy of pacing.
“Over When It’s Over” was performed as a pseudo-duet with backing singer Joanna Cotten, who often showed her powerhouse pipes. As a performer, Church had a unique mystique to him. He’d stand at center stage, singing calmly while building energy and tension for the moment when the song would crescendo, and then he’d attack.
He continued with the upbeat “Lotta Boot Left to Fill” and the powerful “Homeboy” before hitting the show’s first true singalong moment with fan-favorite “Drink In My Hand.”
“We’re just starting to get loose up here; we’re doing our stretching,” Church joked with an American flag from a fan draped over his shoulder.
Church was keenly aware of regional touches many times throughout the show, singing “I’ve never been east of San Jose,” on the mid-tempo ballad, “Round Here Buzz.” He stayed in ballad territory for “Before She Does” and the heartfelt “Talladega,” before rocking on all cylinders with “Creepin,'” off Chief. He closed out his first set with a prescient performance of “Mistress Named Music,” but not before throwing a curveball.
“Let’s do something a little different,” Church said toward the end of the song.
What followed was an acoustic covers medley that began as a tribute to San Francisco with songs by Otis Redding, Little Feat and Jimmy Buffett before taking a grand tour through music history with Def Leppard, Janis Joplin, Billy Joel and others. It was a fitting close to the first half of the performance.
Fans were given a 20-minute intermission between the two sets, with most choosing to either nurse their buzz or push it further. Any doubts as to whether Church could regain the momentum were erased when he returned with a trio of his most balls-to-the-wall rock and roll. He opened with the hard-rock influenced “The Outsiders,” went into a fist-pumping celebration of classic rock counter culture in “That’s Damn Rock and Roll” and followed it up with the danceable outburst of “Chattanooga Lucy.”
With the crowd firmly in his corner, Church turned back the clock for “Sinners Like Me” and “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag.” He prefaced “Jack Daniels” by talking about one of his earliest Bay Area gigs while recording Chief, at the tiny Rodeo Club in San Jose. Church said that when he plays the song, it still exudes the energy of a tightly packed club with 100 sweaty people. True to the song’s namesake, Church strolled backstage mid-song to toast and do a shot with the crew (on camera, of course).
Church moved through the trio of “Higher Wire,” “Mixed Drinks About Feelings” and “Wrecking Ball” before illuminating the entire arena in a green hue for the toking anthem “Smoke a Little Smoke.” He then delivered a heartfelt rendition of “Record Year” and finished off the song by walking along the front of the crowd and signing fans’ vinyl records.
He finished strong with the modern rock riffs of “Keep On,” with the entire room illuminated with bright light. He then led a singalong of one of his best songs, “Give Me Back My Hometown.”
Before diving into “These Boots,” Church asked a Warriors fan for his jersey, which he’d wear for the remainder of the show. He brought up a trio of aviator-wearing kids to help him out on the song. Church’s fanbase is known as the Church Choir, and that moniker couldn’t have been more apt as the crowd sang along with the valiant “woahs” of the final chorus.
Church talked about the power of music to create life-affirming moments between friends and family and reminisced about his own experience seeing his favorite bands live. The show’s encore, which served as a fitting epilogue to the performance, was a cover of Jackson Browne’s “The Load Out.”
The concert was definitely a marathon. It required stamina and energy—and that’s just the way that Church wants it. Those who stuck around ’til the very end—the vast majority—were treated to soaring moments that left them dancing and singing in the aisles.
See the full setlist below.
Knives of New Orleans
How ‘Bout You (w/Black Betty snippet)
Over When It’s Over
Lotta Boot Left To Fill
Drink In My Hand
Round Here Buzz
Before She Does
Mistress Named Music (ft. Covers Medley: [Sittin’ On] The Dock of the Bay//Willin//Come Monday//Stand by Me//Pour Some Sugar On Me//I Love Rock & Roll//I’m Gonna Be//Piano Man)
That’s Damn Rock & Roll
Sinners Like Me
Pledge Allegiance to the Hag
Mixed Drinks About Feelings
Smoke a Little Smoke
Some of It
Give Me Back My Hometown
The Load Out (Jackson Browne Cover)