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Church grows with time

Staples Center, Los Angeles, January 23, 2015

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

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It's heartening to see the continual rise of Eric Church's career, as he is one of the best songwriters in contemporary mainstream country music. Church mentioned from the stage how he performed for - in his estimation - only six loyal fans at The Whiskey for his first tour trip through Las Angeles a decade ago. His headlining stop last time through was across the street at the much smaller Nokia Theater. However, between that night and now, he'd recently upstaged Kenny Chesney at a summer baseball stadium show. Oh, and he also headlined a little event called Stagecoach. Obviously, he's put his small audience club dates behind him.

In contrast to Church's appearance with Chesney, where he focused a little too much on drinking songs and encouraging the audience to party hearty, the man concentrated far more on songs and musicianship tonight. Early in the set for example, he and his band did a version of the hit "Creepin'" that included extended guitar soloing over the song's swampy groove. However, it was when Lizzy Hale (of show opener Halestorm) joined Church for a metallic version of "That's Damn Rock & Roll," about 45 minutes into the set, that this show really went into overdrive. It's as though this one song dramatically jump started Church and band.

Church then cooled things down for "Give Me Back My Hometown." The performance turned into a slightly ironic sing-along. It was odd to hear a hockey rink filled with residents of major metropolis Los Angeles demanding that their small town be given back. This led into "Homeboy," a song that would have probably meant a whole lot more to Inland Empire citizens than these L.A. folks. Ah, but it still sounded wonderful!

When Church went into "Devil, Devil," he was joined by a huge blow-up devil figure at the back of the arena. With its penetrating laser red eyes and giant size, it's obvious Church had experienced his share of Iron Maiden shows growing up. Only the beast's Nashville belt buckle gave away its country music association.

Church closed his show with "Springsteen," which was preceded by an aborted "Brilliant Disguise" Springsteen cover attempt. Church quickly switched to "Dancing In The Dark" because he better remembered the words to that one. After singing "Springsteen," Church reiterated the lyric that states, "Funny how a melody sounds like a memory," which emphasizes the strange power great music has to evoke vivid memories. This triumphant show clearly created wonderful new memories for Church, who appeared sincerely moved by the reception he received.

It was an appropriate move to have Dwight Yoakam open this show, as he is one of the most important country singers to cut his teeth on the Los Angeles roots music scene. Although patches of gray hair now poke through his pulled down cowboy hat, Yoakam can still do those cool dance moves in tight jeans and sing fantastically. He rocked it with "Honky Tonk Man" and especially with closer "Fast As You," yet slowed the mood down nicely for "A Thousand Miles From Nowhere."

It's easy to find fault with contemporary country music these days. There's so much lyrical fluff and musical infidelity. However, it's difficult to find anything to complain about with this Eric Church show. When it comes to the murky, cloudy object that is the modern country music scene, Church is its huge and conspicuous silver lining.