Why did Eric Church cross the road? To sell out an arena.
Saturday night, more than two years after the country singer played a free show on the KC Live stage in the Power & Light District, Church brought his Blood, Sweat and Beers Tour across Grand Boulevard to the Sprint Center, which was nearly filled to capacity. His rise to arena stature has been swift. Church, 36, has three albums on his resume, the latest of which, “Chief,” has gone platinum since its release in June 2011.
Like its predecessors, “Chief” is full of songs about drinking, smoking weed, living the country-boy life, loving and leaving, and drinking some more — outlaw themes that resonate with his big audience. He played 10 of the 11 tracks off that album, and the crowd gave most a rowdy welcome and hearty response.
Church has been a road warrior for six years or so, and it showed. He and his band had no trouble delivering an arena-sized show. And they needed to: The place looked about 99 percent full, all the way up to the last rows in the upper level. He brought some embellishments: flashpots and fireworks and lasers. But his 100-minute set was mostly about attitude sustainment. Church conveys the personae of a guy who’s hard on the outside but soft enough on the inside to fall in love or for at least a little romance.
He opened with “Country Music Jesus,” a call for a revival of the music’s old-country ways, then “Guys Like Me,” a male-bonding anthem for guys who fix their own trucks, drink too much beer, aren’t afraid to bleed and wear cowboy boots to church. But it’s one for the ladies, too: “It’s hard to believe that girls like you / Love guys like me.”
In “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” he paid reverence to a country music hero and the places and lifestyles that inspired his music. But the songs that enflamed the Saturday-night mood in the arena were the anthems like “I’m Getting Stoned,” “Hungover and Hard Up,” “Drink in My Hand” and “Smoke a Little Smoke.” No name was mentioned more all night than Jack Daniel’s, which ought to pay a sponsor’s fee.
Yet he closed with two sentimental tunes. The first was “These Boots,” a song from his first album, “Sinners Like Me.” The song is about a diehard symbol in country music and the country lifestyle. He thanks his boots for getting him into good places and out of trouble, then damns them for “walkin’ out on you.”
He closed with “Springsteen,” another “Chief” song and one that addresses how a song can have the power to revive keen memories: “Funny how a melody sounds like a memory / Like a soundtrack to a July Saturday night / Springsteen.” He dropped in the first verse to “Born to Run,” done country-style, and the place was so full and the huge crowd joined in roared so loud, it felt as if the guy who wrote it were on stage singing it.