Eric Church was well worth the wait. The wait for him to come back to Central Arkansas for the first time since February 2017. The wait for him to take the stage Friday night at Simmons Bank Arena in North Little Rock that was, by our count, about 45 minutes late. The wait for him — well into an evening of 30-plus songs — to finally break into the catchy opening lyrics from his most recent hit, “Some of It” (“Beer don’t keep/Love’s not cheap and trucks don’t wreck themselves”).
Like that 2017 concert in the same venue, it was all Church — no opening act. The crowd-pleasing country rocker hit the stage around 8:45 p.m. for this stop on his Double Down Tour that listed an 8 p.m. start. (Apparently, the meet-and-greet ran long, and may have included some seasonal trickery; according to @ericchurchmusic on Instagram, “Eric got in the Halloween spirit last night impersonating an usher, fake beard and all!”)
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If the crowd of 15,391 minded the belated start, they didn’t let on. Church was greeted enthusiastically as he hit the stage and launched into “Drowning Man” off his latest album, followed by “Country Music Jesus” and the always-popular “Cold One,” with parts of “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” melded in.
Performing two sets with a roughly 20-minute intermission, Church rolled through “Talladega,” “Round Here Buzz,” “Sinners Like Me,” “Mr. Misunderstood,” “Creepin’” and the rowdy “Drink in My Hand.” Wearing a black T-shirt, black jeans and black boots along with those ever-present shades, he worked his way through slow ones and fast ones amid colorful, eye-catching lighting, some a little more country, others a lot more rock ’n’ roll, and all showcased on multiple video screens. Backing vocalist Joanna Cotton was outstanding, as was the band. And if you were somehow in what would have to be a very small minority that didn’t like the entire set list, you had to enjoy some of it. Especially “Some of It.”
The easy-to-like song, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Country Airplay chart back in July, features line after line of life’s lessons, many perhaps acquired through a great deal of effort: “Some of it you learn the hard way/Some of it you read on a page/Some of it comes from heartbreak/Most of it comes with age.”
There was the outstanding “Record Year,” in which old vinyl albums and plenty of booze help a guy ease the pain of a breakup. “These Boots” saw cowboys and would-be cowboys all over the arena waving one of their boots in the air, a few of which Church signed and adroitly returned to their owners. And he toasted the crowd on “Jack Daniels,” proclaiming, “Here’s to Little Rock. You’re even better than I remember you.”
Perhaps his most popular song, the nostalgic “Springsteen,” came near the end of a show that didn’t really feature an encore even as it neared midnight. “I’m gonna spare you the drama of that encore stuff and just keep playin’ songs,” he said. That he did, including a fine cover of “Stay.”
Church is a multiple nominee in the upcoming Country Music Association Awards — which will be telecast Nov. Wednesday, Nov. 13, on the ABC Network — with nominations for Entertainer of the Year, Album of the Year for “Desperate Man” and Music Video of the Year for “Some of It.” If he pulls out a win in the entertainer category, it will get no argument from us.