|photo: Drew A. Kelley|
“A melody and a memory – that’s the most powerful thing music does. It freezes a moment in time. We have tonight forever.”
Indeed. The marathon concert, which lasted well over three hours and featured several dozen tunes, was a godsend for longtime Church enthusiasts. They were treated to a wide-ranging selection spanning the North Carolina native’s entire career – from 2006 debut CD “Sinners Like Me” through 2015’s excellent “Mr. Misunderstood” (a well-deserved Country Music Award winner for album of the year).
Since this tour began in January, Church and his management team have taken unprecedented steps to crack down on scalpers and keep ticket prices affordable. Paired with the lengthy running time, people really got a bang for their buck, something only a handful of musicians in any genre can claim.
The stage layout included a catwalk which surrounded the general admission pit and reserved seats. Church had multiple mike stands placed at various sides (and used them often). Everyone nearby eventually got a good view.
Jeff Buckley’s graceful take on Leonard Cohen's signature song “Hallelujah” served as intro music. Then Church emerged alone in shadowy light with an acoustic guitar to kick things off with a contemplative “Mistress Named Music.” Eventually, the band joined in and members of the Inglewood High School choir helped provide a spirited climax.
Backing vocalist Joanna Cotten added a welcome dose of Southern-fried soul to the rousing stomper “That’s Damn Rock & Roll” and a feisty, sizzling “Chattanooga Lucy.” Church constantly roamed the stage, shook fans’ hands and sipped from one of their mini booze bottles when some in his cup accidentally spilled out (yes, it was right before “Drink in My Hand”).
When the band rocked hard (“How ‘Bout You,” “The Outsiders,” “Lotta Boot Left to Fill”), Church got the crowd even more riled up with his frequent fist pumps. Understated gems like the earthy, affecting “Knives of New Orleans,” “Carolina” (and its appropriate lyric: “I love what I do”), plus the chart-topping ode to classic-vinyl-as-a-solace-tool “Record Year” were equally potent.
Church’s fiery salute to Merle Haggard, “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag” saw the singer drape himself in a flag and it went down a storm as images of the late country legend flashed on a boxed screen. The hedonistic “Smoke a Little Smoke,” which closed out Set 1 before an intermission, received a similar pumped-up reaction.
Sinewy rocker “Two Pink Lines” (Church’s second top 20 hit in ’06), was prefaced by a story about a poorly attended early career booking at an iconic Sunset Strip club. He said a major reason he can play a place like Staples Center now is because people spread the word and dedicated the song to true believers.
Elsewhere in Set 2, the haunting recent top 10 single “Kill a Word” (Cotten added enrapturing backing vocals), dramatic uplift of “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “Jack Daniels” (where Church was filmed underneath the stage pouring shots of that liquor for himself and the crew) also were rapturously received.
Each stop on tour has been treated to a cover that is relevant to the city in some way. Here it was Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.” Church admitted they hadn’t done it before and probably wouldn’t again. Done slow and acoustic-based, as the words were read from a book on the floor, I barely recognized it until the chorus. That was followed by a loose, yet soulful duet between Church and Cotten (again relying on lyric sheets) during Aretha Franklin’s “Baby I Love You.”
Later, “Three-Year-Old,” inspired by Church’s young son, was a nice bit of quiet introspection. “These Boots” continued the tradition of some fans' taking their footwear off and raising ‘em high (Church gamely signed a few). Finally, the second set ended with an extended singalong on the inspiring “Springsteen” and like the elder Jersey Boss man, he had plenty of staying power.
My review originally appeared at ocregister.com