Eric Church could have done this anywhere.
The country star’s Double Down tour began Friday night in Omaha, and he admitted that there was nowhere else he would rather be.
“If I’m gonna start my tour anywhere, I’m gonna do it in Omaha, Nebraska,” he said from the stage, name-checking local venues he played in his early days, including Whiskey Roadhouse and Stir Cove. “So welcome to night one of the Double Down tour. It’s gonna be a journey, so buckle up.”
He continued: “I promise you, we’re gonna have a lot of fun tonight.”
And they did.
On Friday, faithful members of the Church Choir filed into the rows of the sold-out CHI Health Center, filling the arena and praying for a story to tell the next morning.
But they were more sinners than saints, raising innumerable cups of beer during “Drink in My Hand” and rowdily shouting the words to “Outsiders” and “How ‘Bout You.” Their Church attire included “Sinners Like Me” shirts and hoodies declaring a love for cheap beer and female body parts.
Through an epic three-hour concert, Church burned through numerous hits and crowd favorites, proving he liked his country rocking, as he sings in “How ‘Bout You.” He strummed through “Mr. Misunderstood,” inciting “every soul in Omaha” to dance. He pushed the audience, all 15,000-plus, to sing like a well-practiced chorus on “Over When It’s Over” and “Carolina” and “Record Year.”
Decked out in his trademark aviators and black leather, Church roamed the stage with his guitar slung across his back like some kind of country music warrior seeking someone to slay with his songs.
Church’s country music is relatable sort of stuff. It’s classic country with a little rock infused. The songs reference other songs, lament (but also celebrate) his outsider status and celebrate being a regular guy who loves Bruce Springsteen and Hank Williams and Jeff Tweedy, too.
As he played “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” he raised a glass to Merle Haggard while fans tipped their caps and raised their own glasses to him.
Church was delighted by his adoring flock. After watching the crowd sing the final chorus of “Record Year,” the lights came up and Church applauded the audience as he drank in their adoration. Church signed records and boots, and he traded some guitar picks for an American flag he wore around his neck for the remainder of the concert.
Friday’s three-hour set leaned heavy on last year’s “Desperate Man” — seven of the album’s songs appeared during the show. It was a lot to include in the concert, but “Desperate Man,” “Monsters” and “Some Of It” stood out with impassioned performances.
And he will do it all again Saturday. Both concerts sold out, with a combined 30,000 tickets sold for the two-night stand.
Saturday’s concert will be slightly different than Friday’s, but not by much. Church revealed late in the show that the majority of it is the same, but he’d be calling a few audibles to make for unique shows night after night.
Staples such as “Springsteen” and “Smoke a Little Smoke” and “Jack Daniels” anchored the setlist and were rallying cries for the fans. The audibles, on the other hand, were total surprises including a few rarities of his own (“Higher Wire” and “Mixed Drinks About Feelings”) as well as a few cover songs.
“What you get tonight will never be heard the rest of this tour,” Church said.
Those moments were sometimes fun, but a few seemed like a stumble. Or a mismatch. Maybe just a bad play call.
A cover of “Ain’t Living Long Like This” was mighty entertaining, even when Church missed a few lyrics. But covers of Del Shannon’s “Runaway” and The Meters’ “Just Kissed My Baby” were bizarre choices that clashed with the otherwise excellent set.
Church wants things to be different and fun every night, but could they not have picked a Springsteen or Haggard or, my goodness, any classic country song to cover?
The set included hits such as “Carolina,” “Cold One,” “Talladega” and “These Boots,” but we missed out on “Guys Like Me,” “Like a Wrecking Ball” and “Like Jesus Does” — all favorites he decided not to play that could have also replaced the audibles.
At least Church had a good time, and his fans followed along at every turn.
“Just wanna say I had fun tonight, guys,” Church said. “You do this for a living and there are certain cities that are just different, and this city’s just different.”
“And y’know the cool thing? We’re gonna kick y’all’s ass tomorrow night, too,” he added.