August 25, 2023
The Outsiders Revival Tour - Saratoga Springs, NY 8.24.23
By Adam Lucas
SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y.—Saratoga Springs had plenty of excuses.
It’s just that they didn’t want to use them.
It was a Thursday night. It was raining, sometimes heavily. It was almost—especially coming off the sweltering shows in Orange Beach—chilly.
This is one of those things you never really think about when you buy a ticket: weather like Thursday night’s is actually pretty challenging for those who have to work in the conditions. MJ Sagraves has been Eric Church’s guitar tech for 14 years. He knows exactly what the damp conditions due to a musical instrument. “It absolutely makes a difference,” he said.
So maybe this wasn’t the night for a raucous installment of the Outsiders Revival tour. But undeterred by the weather, a sellout crowd packed into the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, traipsing through the parking lot in ponchos and trash bags and whatever rain protection they could find. But bailing never seemed to occur to them. They were there for the Red Clay Strays, they sang along with Lainey Wilson, and they were shoehorned into every crevice of the double-deck structure for Eric Church.
You think Church noticed that they’d made the effort to brave the weather? A couple scenes:
“Give Me Back My Hometown” has become one of the stars of this tour. It gets an enormous roar every night. Even by those standards, this one was special. And so, when it was finished, Church looked to his right at guitarist Jeff Cease. The duo are veterans of thousands or maybe tens of thousands of shows exactly like this. They are people who know what to expect from a crowd. Even they realized that this was something different. They raised their eyebrows at each other and gave a little half grin.
After coming back on stage after the encore, Church was greeted with a wall of noise. There is the usual encore cheer, the realization that, OK, yes, there’s going to be another song. This one was different. This one just…kept…going. And so Church looked off to the side of the stage and mouthed the word, “Wow.”
“I wish we were recording tonight,” Church told the crowd after “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag.” It was that kind of night.
Here’s the thing: Church’s songs travel. Through the rain and the wind and the damp air and the fact that tomorrow is a workday, none of that seemed to matter. Because when you can play “Some Of It,” “Smoke a Little Smoke,” and “Hometown” back-to-back-to-back, as Church did on Thursday, you’re just showing off.
After it was virtually absent from the first third of the tour, “Some Of It” has made more frequent appearances lately. It’s a standout for the arrangement, the stripped down band and the simplicity. But also because it’s a really, really great song. “Be true to her ‘til your glass runs out of sand” and the way it’s delivered will stop you cold.
And then there’s “Smoke.” As if Church’s energy isn’t enough, now the front of the stage is going to be swarmed by some of the most talented musicians anywhere. Singers and horns and instruments—there’s a lot happening in this song, especially coming right after the sparseness of the previous tune. But it works.
That puts the entire evening in sync. Church thrives off the energy of the crowd. On this night, it was strong, which in turn allows the entire band to feed off Church. It would be interesting to go back and watch video of the first show on the tour, two months ago in Milwaukee. It was still good. But now everyone has gotten comfortable. How much fun are they having? The unflinching Jeff Hyde even threw in a little bunny hop during “Cold One” for the enjoyment of backup singers Whitney Coleman, Stephcynie Curry and April Rucker.
You can watch Hyde for an entire show and never see him change expression. And yet there he was, vamping ever so imperceptibly.
As early as an hour into the show, you could just tell Church was going to want to do something special for a crowd like this. And so he did, tacking on an unplanned extra medley to the end of the set list. With the band watching from the side of the stage—their night was over, so they easily could have gone back to the bus, but they chose not to—the finale was an acoustic blend of “Carolina,” “Sinners Like Me” and “Love Your Love the Most.”
Just before Church began that trio, he looked off to the side of the stage. “Hang with me,” he said.
There would be no excuses.