Eric Church is little bit country, rock and roll

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First Posted: 3/16/2015

Just like Donny and Marie, Eric Church is a little bit country and a little bit rock and roll.

For the most part, his songs touch on all the traditional country topics: beer, small-town values and Jesus. His concerts, however, look more like a rock show with lots of lights, elaborate staging and plenty of squealing guitars.

No matter what you call it, it’s also extremely popular as nearly 9,000 rabid fans sold out the Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza on Friday night.

Church was up to the challenge from the start, taking the stage with “The Outsiders,” the title track of his second consecutive No.1 album that topped both the Country and all-genre Billboard 200 charts, as his drummer and his full kit was lowered from the rafters amidst swirling purple and green lights.

Church and his six-piece backing band followed up with “Creepin’,” a Top 10 single from his 2011 album “Chief,” and “Guys Like Me,” with many in the audience cheering the line, “Guys like me drink too many beers on Friday after work.”

The octagonal-shaped stage with its numerous ramps and runways jutting out deep into the crowd had Church and his guitar players giving fans high fives as they moved from one microphone to the next. The drums rotated from time to time to give the concert an “in the round” feel, as Church and his cohorts played to all members of the audience, even those behind the stage.

Following a nice rendition of his recent No. 1 “Talladega,” Church said, “We’re going to play whatever we want, and whatever you guys want to hear.

“We’re going to rewind the clock back to 2006 on this one,” he said as his introduction to a smoking version of “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” his tribute to Merle Haggard from his debut album “Sinners Like Me.”

He then followed up with the title song from the 2006 album and his No. 1 single “Drink in My Hand” from “Chief,” egging the crowd on to scream out the lyric, “All you gotta do is put a drink in my hand” loud enough “for those rednecks in Scranton to hear us.”

Church then took a request from an audience member for “Keep On” (from “Chief”), noting that Friday’s show was the 65th of the tour and no two are ever exactly the same.

Later in the set, Church did a host of songs from “The Outsiders” album including “Cold One,” “Like a Wrecking Ball,” “Dark Side,” “Give Me Back My Hometown” and “That’s Damn Rock & Roll.”

The most bizarre part of the evening had to be the new album’s “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness),” the eight-minute epic that began with a filmed Church telling the prelude on the big screens and featured a humungous blow-up devil dancing in the back of the arena.

Church then fired up the crowd again with “Country Music Jesus,” “Smoke a Little Smoke” and “Jack Daniels,” with its memorable lyric, “Jack Daniel’s kicked my ass again last night.”

Church finished up with “These Boots,” as hundreds in the crowd held one boot aloft, and a few verses of “Born in the U.S.A.” as an introduction to Church’s No. 1 song “Springsteen.”

Especially with how well he was received all evening long, it was a bit surprising Church did not do an encore, but he did give the audience his all for nearly two hours before calling it a night.

Friday’s show was opened by Drive-By Truckers, the alt-country/Southern rock band from Athens, Georgia, supporting its latest album, “English Oceans.”

Just like on their 10 studio albums, guitarists Mike Cooley and Patterson Hood alternated on lead vocals throughout the 10-song, 50-minute set.

The highlight was closing number “Let There Be Rock” from 2001’s “Southern Rock Opera” with Hood name-checking everyone from The Clash and Lynyrd Skynyrd to The Replacements and AC/DC.