September 22, 2023
The Outsiders Revival Tour - Alpharetta, GA 9.21.23 (Night 1)
By Adam Lucas
ALPHARETTA—He simply has no idea how to pace himself.
Eric Church doesn’t know how to do it. Thursday night at Ameris Bank Amphitheater was the first of four consecutive shows, a Double-Double Down joined by Whiskey Myers. It would make sense to proceed with caution. The last time he had four straight full concerts was back in October of 2014, and one of those was a 1,700 seat theater. By the time this week’s shows are over, nearly 65,000 individuals will have gone to Church.
How long ago was that previous set of four shows in four days in 2014? The world had not yet heard a single song from the Mr. Misunderstood album, much less Desperate Man or Heart & Soul. “Talladega” had only been released as a single the previous month. We’re so far removed from that time period that “Talladega” has been a mainstay, then dropped off the normal playlist, then made a resurgence last weekend upon the request of a friend of Church. “We had put it on the bench and let other players play,” he told the crowd. “Now we’ve decided to put it back in. But you better go crazy for it.”
And the crowd of nearly 12,000 did, because they’ve been singing along to it for the better part of a decade. Relishing the response, Church looked out at the crowd. “OK,” he said, “we’ll keep it in for tomorrow night.”
It should be noted that, in reality, there is in no way a guarantee that it will actually appear on the set list tomorrow night. What felt good on Thursday might feel like it needs a change on Friday. If you’re going to entrust four straight shows to anyone, put someone in charge of giving you four different experiences in the span of about 75 hours, Eric Church is your guy.
He showed that on Thursday night. Before “Drink In My Hand,” early in his set, he challenged the crowd. “Alright,” he said, “you ready? That’s enough stretching. Let’s get in this shit.”
It was as though he was intent on proving that he wasn’t going to soft-pedal any night of this quadrupleheader. In “Where I Wanna Be,” he asked the background trio to “give me 14 times” on the “Hey” sing-along. Ten would be a lot. Fourteen is just proving that you can.
Almost immediately after that, he turned the stage completely over to Emmanuel Echem, whose trumpet introduction to “Knives of New Orleans” was mesmerizing. This is the kind of atmosphere Church has cultivated: with Echem at center stage, trombonist Roy Agee stayed nearby in the wings just to watch his horns teammate have his moment. Echem left the stage after his solo to cheers and fist bumps from the crew members waiting in the wings.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” Echem said immediately after leaving the stage. “On something like that, I’m somewhat making it up as I go along. And I can feel the energy the crowd is giving me, and I’m trying to give it back to them.”
Hear that? If you’ve ever suspected that your role in these concerts is more than just watching passively, Emmanuel has your supporting evidence. It’s that energy from the crowd that makes an already elite musician even better.
The same is true for the headliner. Church gave the crowd a taste of his Atlanta Braves fandom during “Round Here Buzz,” talking about his grandfather’s love of the Braves “when they had the Carolina Blue jerseys and Dale Murphy was the man.”
Then, during the brief period of silence between “Round Here Buzz” and the next song, the crowd answered back with the perfect spontaneous response: starting on the lawn and working its way forward to the stage, everyone in attendance started doing the Braves signature Tomahawk Chop.
“You do realize,” Church told the crowd, “that this is only night one of two in Atlanta. Your job is when that crowd is standing in front of me tomorrow night, that they have no chance of beating this crowd.”
To encourage them, he provided them with a one of a kind setlist. He just seemed to be in a giving mood, including signing three boots for one of the only times on this tour. It continued in the encore, when he made an on-the-fly change to the setlist at the request of a pair of fans in the pit who had traveled from Indianapolis. Their sign asked for “Hallelujah,” so that’s exactly what he gave them.
Of course, Church was in Indianapolis just last month. So why make the journey to Atlanta? The sign duo just shrugged. “We go where he goes,” they said simply.
They saw a show that felt more like a Saturday than a Thursday. And maybe it felt a little more like 2014 than 2023.