Monday, July 29, 2013

Kenny Chesney, Eric Church concert review: Anaheim, Calif.

photo courtesy: BNA/Columbia Records Nashville
My review originally appeared at 

Eric Church was deep into a rip-roaring performance at Angel Stadium Saturday evening when he asked the audience if they felt like getting crazy.

There was never any doubt – especially during a country show where alcohol figured so prominently. The 5½-hour event, headlined by Kenny Chesney, saw several varieties represented in song (tequila, whiskey, beer), guzzled by performers (Church) and consumed in far too massive quantities by concertgoers. 

Chesney’s latest chart-topping album, the spring release Life on a Rock, is another breezy collection of tunes, albeit written by the artist across the past six years. Yet two singles from that were the only new selections represented live in Anaheim. 

The superstar was back on the baseball field after an appearance here last July with Tim McGraw, and though his nearly two-hour, 23-song set featured a different running order and minor tweaks, it was otherwise unchanged. Still, the gregarious Tennessee singer put on an energetic show packed with hits. No wonder he consistently places among America’s leading concert draws. 

Following the usual taped greetings from fans and famous friends on beaches, as well as a long collage of photos and video stills, his tight seven-piece band launched into “Feel Like a Rock Star.” Chesney spent a lot of time on a stage extension that divided the floor section, acknowledged handmade signs and easily switched from electric to acoustic guitar. 

An exuberant “Summertime” was a timely anthem. During the feisty, mandolin-infused “Pirate Flag,” many people waved skull-and-crossbones banners, just like ones adorning the stage. 

“This is the most authentic California song I’ve ever done,” Chesney remarked about the tender ballad “You and Tequila,” whose studio version features Grace Potter and lyrics referencing Mulholland Drive. “I first heard the (songwriters’) demo while driving up PCH.” 

From there, a double shot of the rollicking “Living in Fast Forward” (during which an impromptu line dance took shape on the floor) and a wistful, John Mellencamp-esque “Young” (with childhood Chesney shots on the screens) was potent. Reggae-fied tune “Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven” was a nice change of pace. 

Guitarists Clayton Mitchell and Kenny Greenberg proved their mettle during an ebullient “Big Star” and a contemplative “When I See This Bar,” the latter also containing the guys’ best vocal harmonies. But toward the end a string of slower songs seemed to prompt an early exodus by parts of the crowd. 

Before the romantic “Anything But Mine,” the singer admitted to spending a day off in Laguna Beach, then got perturbed after a male fan ambled onstage. The whimsical “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” was the traditional concert closer. 

Right before Chesney took the stage, a woman was overheard saying, “Eric Church should’ve headlined the show.” The North Carolina native, a recent CMA winner for album of the year winner for his platinum-selling effort Chief, easily could have done so. 

Church’s 75-minute set was electrifying. It began on a high note with the swampy Cajun vibe of “Creepin’,” highlighted by a wicked descending melody line partially inspired by David Bowie’s “Fame.” 

Quick banjo-picking and Church’s defiant attitude amid “How ’Bout You” was also memorable. The metallic crunch of “I’m Gettin’ Stoned” found the outlaw country singer flipping the bird and pouring the first bottle of booze down his throat. More would flow during a fun “Jack Daniels,” which segued into the 2006 song “Livin’ Part of Life.” 

His solo acoustic segment spotlighted a more contemplative side, but for the feisty rocker “Drink in My Hand,” Church grabbed some beers from the audience and could barely contain his laughter – or resist another alcoholic self-drenching. 

More hard-rock thrust was heard in “Lotta Boot Left to Fill,” about country music poseurs (kudos to former Black Crowes guitarist Jeff Cease and fellow axman Driver Williams). Elsewhere, “Homeboy” was eerie and riveting, and fans removed their footwear in salute during “These Boots.” 

Then Church played piano, concluding with a transcendent, genuinely moving version of his No. 1 single “Springsteen.” It segued into one of the Boss’ signature songs, “Born to Run,” and Church offered some background info. Overall, he provided a fine “soundtrack to a July Saturday night,” attitude aplenty and a performance that alone was well worth the ticket price. 

Eli Young Band’s solid 50-minute set was somewhat obscured by a thick sound mix. The quartet persevered, though, thanks to singer Mike Eli’s earnest delivery and inspiring anecdotes. Big radio hits “Crazy Girl” and “Even If It Breaks Your Heart” got rousing responses, with fans singing along, as did the new single “Drunk Last Night.” A pair of sturdy covers, Tom Petty’s “Learning to Fly” and Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Gimme Three Steps,” fit them well. 

The music of acclaimed young Texan Kacey Musgraves was a pleasant accompaniment to the sunny late afternoon as people stumbled their way into seats. Songs from her excellent old-school album Same Trailer Different Park all fared well but lost some nuance in the cavernous stadium. 

A cover of Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” was just average, but standouts included the Sheryl Crow-styled “Blowin’ Smoke,” the aching vocals of “Back on the Map,” “Follow Your Arrow” (with a nod to open-minded Californians) and the astute lyricism of “Merry Go Round.”
Set lists: Kenny Chesney and Eric Church at Angel Stadium of Anaheim, 
July 27, 2013
Chesney: Feel Like a Rock Star / Reality / Beer in Mexico / Pirate Flag / Summertime / No Shoes, No Shirt, No Problems / Somewhere with You / I Go Back / You and Tequila / Living in Fast Forward / Young / How Forever Feels / Everybody Wants to Go to Heaven / Big Star / Come Over / Don’t Happen Twice / Never Wanted Nothing More / Anything But Mine / When I See This Bar / When the Sun Goes Down / Out Last Night / The Boys of Fall // Encore: She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy
Church: Creepin’ / How ‘Bout You / Over When It’s Over / I’m Gettin’ Stoned / Keep On / Jack Daniels > Livin’ Part of Life / Like Jesus Does / Love Your Love the Most / Drink in My Hand / Guys Like Me / Lotta Boot Left to Fill / A Country Boy Can Survive / Homeboy / Smoke a Little Smoke / These Boots / Springsteen > Born to Run (Bruce Springsteen cover)

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