Let’s get three things straight: #1. I am picky about my country music. #2. I do love Eric Church. #3. Good music is always better live.
Church’s newest release, Caught in the Act, does everything that audio can do to give listeners that live show experience. Caught in the Act is fun, rowdy, and clever, but let’s face it – an Eric Church live show is a raucous ride of whiskey-soaked guitar and attitude, more rock concert than country hoedown, and it is difficult to capture the full effect on CD. You’ve got to be there! But alas, since we can’t live at an Eric Church concert, Caught in the Act is a well-tuned and substantial album able to hold fans over until the new material comes out. By the way, Eric, we are ready to rock again.
Caught in the Act was recorded at The Trivoli Theater in Chattanooga, TN in October 2012. While not the same show or same set list, I have enjoyed the Eric Church Experience. The Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour pulled into Portland, Maine’s Cumberland County Civic Center on March 1st, 2012. By Maine standards, 2012 was a quiet winter. The one massive Nor’easter of the season? Yes, indeed, March 1st. We weren’t the only crazy people braving the storm. Highway 95 was thick with Eric Church fans going 45 mph through the snow and high winds to get to the show. The normally two hour trip took twice that long, but it was worth it. I must have met 20 people in the months since that show, and they all grinned and declared “Damn right, I’ve got 4 wheel drive. I was NOT going to miss Eric Church.”
So what is so special about an Eric Church live show? Where do I begin? At the last show, it took me a few minutes standing down in the GA pit right beside the barrier to realize the crowd was full of people, both male and female, dressed in T-shirts layered over long sleeves, mirrored aviator style shades, and trucker hats. Not so much a costume but more as a tribute I believe, a sort of identification. Many in the crowd had been to multiple shows and could talk your ear off about every single one. These folks are believers. Church seems to appreciate that.
It is evident that Church toured through bars and small clubs before finally hitting the big stage because his shows still feel like a wild night at the local hot spot. The crowd is welcomed in to become a part of the event. Not only do Church and the band play to the crowd, engaging and encouraging, the show is set up to include those who want to play along. Boots fly into the air for “These Boots” and beers are held up high for “Drink in My Hand.” Regardless of the specific songs, the set list is stacked to carry the fans through the 75 plus minutes performance and never lags in intensity, even with the slower tunes. If you haven’t caught a show – Go. Get in that crowd and have a good time. Sing along. Soak it in.
Caught in the Act indeed catches much of this energy. Produced and mixed by Jay Joyce, this recording of the Chattanooga, TN shows isolates each musician and includes the crowd response, bringing the CD experience to the edge of the stage. Church has created, or was blessed with, a vocal style that twists and growls and then soars to sell each song like it is the first time. Musically, Church’s style smartly layers acoustic country elements with hard rock offerings that compliment the sharpness of the lyrics and the range of vocals. Not as prevalent today as when music came home on vinyl, this style takes me back to my old record collection full of Southern rock and roll. Driver Williams, lets out classic metal and rock riffs, playing electric guitar like a chain saw. Drummer Craig Wright isn’t behind that kit to just add rhythm, he crashes and stomps as needed, adding to that signature style. While not all songs are bass forward, many are, thanks to Lee Hendricks. And filling in, adding that country sound are Jeff Cease and Jeff Hyde. This is well-designed depth and texture. Joanna Cotton on backing vocals floats like an angel.
Caught in the Act is straight out fun for folks yet to catch Eric Church live and will bring back memories for those who have been in the crowd. I knew before I even gave it the first listen that highlights for me would include the craggy and heavy “I’m Getting Stoned” and the acoustic work on “Smoke a Little Smoke” and “Country Music Jesus.” Of course, “Jack Daniels” is countrified fun. And “Springsteen?” This extended version, including a well-crafted and creative rendition of The Boss’s “Born to Run,” is prime Eric Church – able to capture the energy and redefine the spirit. Amazing. There isn’t a slow point or a disappointment here, just one gem after another.
Thank you to Mr Church, the band, and the production crew for capturing this live performance and sharing it with us. Now I suppose we can live at an Eric Church concert whenever the mood, or the need, hits us.