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Church creates memories

Staples Center, Los Angeles, March 31, 2017

Reviewed by Dan MacIntosh

Eric Church had the hit awhile back called "Springsteen," which was about one of his musical heroes. These days, it appears he's trying to become more and more like his hero. His latest tour features no opening acts but, instead, two concert-length sets divided by a 20-minute intermission. He performed just fine on this stop, but one had to wonder if he might be wearing out his audience.

Church's stage is arranged as a square walkway, with his band set up at the back and leaving plenty of room for the artist to perform directly to various areas of the arena. Entering dressed, as always, in black and wearing shades, Church took the stage after a cover recording of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah," played over the sound system with a spotlight on the front stage microphone. Church played a healthy set that included selections from throughout his career. He mentioned to the audience how he once played The Roxy in nearby West Hollywood to a sparse crowd and credited good word of mouth for helping him now fill stadiums.

He also said from the outset that he wanted this show to be a memorable one for his audience. On this tour, he's been performing special city-specific cover songs in order to make each concert regionally-appropriate. Tonight, he covered Randy Newman's "I Love L.A.," a song Staples Center used to play after Lakers victories, back when they were still a good team. He also gave his backing vocalist Joanna Cotten room to shine with duet on Aretha Franklin's "Baby I Love You." These covers may have been more than a little rough around the edges, but you have to give the man credit for taking big chances with untested material.

Church received some of the loudest applause when he sang the Springsteen-like "Give Me Back My Hometown," which also had the audience humming along loudly on the song's wordless chorus sections. The song is not heavy, at least not in the way "That's Damn Rock & Roll" and "Mr. Misunderstood" delved into psychological issues earlier in the night, but its nostalgic longing felt truly cathartic.

Perhaps for fans, there can never be too much of a good (Eric Church) thing. But to casual concert-goers, this show was akin to watching an artist's career retrospective boxed set performed live. In the end, though, Church did indeed create a memorable experience. Chances are good, Church fans will be talking up this show for a long time to come.

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