Take Me To Church: Eric Church

SKULLI fell in love in the backseat of my friend’s truck. That sounds like the line to a horribly cheesy country song, but it’s true. They say you know when that moment of love hits and that moment for me was Sunday, December 4, 2011.

The Denver Broncos were in Minneapolis to take on the Minnesota Vikings. 2011, more specifically late 2011, was what will go down in history as ‘Tebow Time’. Tim Tebow was doing the miraculous while being a horribly flawed quarterback. I saw ‘Tebow Time’ in person, but that’s not what I fell in love with.

Young people don’t know what the radio is, so we listened to an iPod through the truck speakers for the whole 90-minute trip to and fro the stadium. Only one artist was played: Eric Church.

I’d known of Eric Church. Hell, I’d seen him in concert as the opening act for Sara Evans, but he never really captivated me. I loved ‘Smoke A Little Smoke’ and I had downloaded ‘Homeboy’ from the iTunes store, but it wasn’t until December 4, 2011, that I realized Eric Church was, well, a badass.

This guy captivated me the way only a couple other artists have. Eric Church captivated me so much that the next time I was at Best Buy, full disclosure I forced myself into a trip, I bought all three albums that Church had released to date.

I was sold.

‘Chief’, the most commercially successful album for Church thus far, was unlike any ‘country’ album I had ever heard. I say ‘country’ because Church has been quoted as saying that genres are an outdated concept. The earlier two albums weren’t as groundbreaking, but it was beyond solid typical country music.

The aviators that I wore turned from being in honor of my family’s obsession with Tom Cruise and ‘Top Gun’ to being because I wanted to be Eric Church. I wanted to be that guy that was on the album cover of ‘Chief’ and wore his glasses onstage.

I finally got to see the guy I wanted to be onstage again.

It was a ‘freakin’ Tuesday in Minneapolis’ and the Target Center was packed to the rafters. Internet connectivity was sketchy with 19,000 people and, I’d assume, 19,000 or so internet cable devices trying to SnapChat their friends. A problem I assume the Timberwolves never face.

Church ran through a blistering 23 songs with only two breaks, one of those breaks was hidden behind a video montage of the prelude to ‘Devil, Devil’ which is featured on his latest album ‘The Outsiders’.

The concert was heavy on ‘The Outsiders’ and ‘Chief’, but touched on all four of Church’s studio albums. Including his second single, ‘Two Pink Lines’ which was selected by a list Church gave a fan before the show and Church and his band didn’t know what they would be playing until ten seconds they were playing it.

Church laughed through the song, especially after forgetting the words to the second verse of the song that reached number 19 on the charts just eight short years ago.

The concert was insanely rocking, especially for what Church pointed out was a Tuesday. The energy, the all-encompassing stage, the attention of the crowd was always on Church and he gave a hell of a show off of that energy.

There’s a million things a guy that is a little biased towards Eric Church could say about the concert. He did the essential hits, he did the true fans’ favorite album cuts, he tied in ‘Born to Run’ in his breakout smash spectacular ‘Springsteen’.

A million memorable moments, but there is something insanely fun about one of your favorite artists having the same admiration you do for another one your favorite artists.

No one was singing ‘Born to Run’ louder than me and Eric Church in that moment.

I couldn’t put my finger on why I loved Eric Church so much until after the concert. I love reading the reviews of the concerts that I have just been to just so I can see how incredibly biased I am compared to the fellows that get paid to review concerts.

Both the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune gave the show a thumbs-up. Both noted that the show was not the typical country concert because Eric Church is not the typical country act. Both papers compared Eric Church to other artists and that’s when it hit me.

Both Ross Raihala of the Pioneer Press, a must-follow on Twitter, and Jon Bream of the Star Tribune compared Church to Bruce Springsteen. Church will always be tied to the Boss since Church’s biggest single, he’ll probably never top it, shares the Boss’ last name. Bream also threw in Garth Brooks.

It clicked.

Eric Church is a beautiful combination of Bruce Springsteen and Garth Brooks.

Musically, Church is the country equivalent of Springsteen. Springsteen had remarkable commercial success with ‘Born in the U.S.A.’ and has had mild chart success around that, but nothing ever meeting that level again. Church had ‘Chief’ and that will be his penultimate commercial success. It brought out a lot of great radio hits while being a great piece of music, but he’s going to, and intentionally, stay directly out of the spotlight.

Church has said that’s why ‘The Outsiders’ is such an out of left field concept to some country music consumers. It’s real music, but it doesn’t need to be radio popular to be popular. Springsteen has built a career out of that and so will Church.

One of the best songs on ‘The Outsiders’, ‘Cold One’ only got to number 20 on the charts. ‘Cold One’ is remarkable well written and performed, but is not yet accepted, and might never be, by the bro-country loving radio listeners.

Church will continually sell out Target Centers and Xcel Energy Centers for a string of years and get modest airplay. Church is set music wise.

Garth Brooks comes in on the performance aspect. Church had his audience captivated the whole time he was on stage on Tuesday night. No one ever sat down. I’ve only seen Springsteen once, so take this with a grain of salt, but there was a time when everyone sat down.

Springsteen is a great performer and shows emotion onstage, but both Brooks and Church shove their emotions in your face, but in a very nice way. Garth and Church both continually are laughing onstage, not because something is funny, but they are both so happy they can’t help put laughing through the ear-to-ear smiles.

They scream. There’s so much emotion in their shows that both Church and Brooks at times will lean back and just scream. If you saw someone do this on the street, you’d be freaked out, but onstage it seems normal. Beyond normal.

Church’s music is deeper than anything on the radio, much like Springsteen. Brooks’ most commercial singles have never been insanely deep, but his show, just on DVD, is incredible.

I don’t know if I saw a rock show, a country concert or if I saw a disciple of that ‘Country Music Jesus’ Church sings about, but I finally know why he’s so captivating.

Church has taken the two best qualities of two of the best artists of all-time and is pulling himself up onto that pedestal with them.

December 4, 2011, was a big day for me. I saw my two favorite NFL teams face off with my friends, I had my first taste of the God-send that is Chipotle and I caught the lifelong earworm that is Eric Church.

I don’t know how to describe September 16, 2014. Eric Church said he’d expected we’d all have a ‘religious experience’ on Tuesday night. If that was ‘religious’, I’m going to be in the front pew of Church until the world burns down.

Taylor Swift Doesn’t Need Country, Country Might Need Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift’s last album ‘22’ was an interesting piece of work. A solid album with a lot of good music, but it wasn’t fully entrenched in a genre. There were elements of country and full-fledged bubblegum pop throughout the whole album. If you just look at the chart performance of her singles from the album, you can see that half charted big on the pop charts and the other half on the country charts.

Swift’s new single, ‘Shake It Off’, was released Monday with a music video and also the announcement of a new album entitled ‘1989’. If ‘Shake It Off’ is indication about how the album is going to sound as a whole, I doubt that Swift will have much of anything charting on the country side.

‘Shake It Off’ is a fun song and a very good song at that, what it is not is country. That’s okay for Taylor Swift, she can do what she wants and in the pop world she can make a lot more money with a greater exposure to more fans.

If this album does show a full slide over to the pop world, it’ll be a sad day for country music.

Taylor Swift remains one of the few women that can currently get a song to the top of the country charts. Currently there are three women that ‘dominate’ the country charts: Taylor, Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood. Underwood and Lambert had to team up to get a number one single, neither of the two biggest female stars in country have had a true solo number one single since 2012 with Lambert’s ‘Over You’ and Underwood’s ‘Blown Away’.

If the two biggest female stars in the country world can’t do, it really doesn’t bode well for any other women out there. Between Lambert’s and Underwood’s number ones only Taylor Swift and The Band Perry with lead singer Kimberly Perry has reached the top with female voices. Lady Antebellum have reached the pinnacle as well, but they solidly split lead vocals.

It’s not a friendly site for the females when looking at the current Billboard Country Airplay charts. The only true female sound on the charts is Maddie & Tae’s ‘Girl In A Country Song’. ‘Something Bad’ a combo shot by Lambert and Underwood sits at 17 on radio play. Faith Hill gets a little mention at number five as a featured artist on her husband Tim McGraw’s latest single ‘Meanwhile Back At Momma’s’. Hilary Scott has the lead vocals for Lady A’s current number three hit ‘Bartender’, but there is always going to be a small clause on Lady A singles.

To recap, one purely female duo is in the Top 30 songs on country radio right now. Lambert would be on the charts alone if she hadn’t released the duet with Underwood, but nonetheless. If you count Lady A as a half that’s 2.5 songs out of thirty that are solely woman-sung singles.

Country music is finding its way out of the bro-country phase, that the fans brought on themselves, but that’s another story, just fine right now. There’s some really good music out right now, but the diversity that is needed is simply not there. Taylor Swift doesn’t need country music, but country music might just need Taylor Swift.

ESPN: Killing the Dream and Out of Touch

I think every sports crazed human at one point or another has wanted to work at ESPN. Just the thought of wall-to-wall sports coverage makes a grand portion of the population start to drool. If a Disney executive showed up at my door and said that I’d be paid mucho dollars to go and talk sports, I’d probably give it a listen, but I don’t know if I’d accept it. Not anymore.

ESPN seemingly can’t tell the difference between actual controversies and controversies they dream up in their own head. Two things have happened on the airwaves of ESPN in the past couple of weeks that have grabbed outside headlines and each has been handled quite poorly by the network.

First, Stephen A. Smith, commenting on the Ray Rice case, said that women provoke abuse. Smith implied that women are to blame for domestic assault. How can a guy that claims to have so many sources be that out of touch? Maybe it’s the corporation he works for.

ESPN made him tape, TAPE, an apology. Let’s record it to make sure he doesn’t say something else that is so blatantly horrible. Then they later suspended him for only a week. A week. Five working days off from his TV show, First Take (probably more of a vacation not to speak to Skip Bayless for a string of days) and his ESPN Radio show.

The suspension was too short in my opinion. A lot of people were calling for Smith to lose his job and I’d have to say that his punishment should have been much closer to that side of the scale, but ESPN only cares about ratings and apparently people are still watching the TV filth that is First Take.

That brings us to the even more recent events of the suspension of Dan Le Batard.

Le Batard is well-known in the Miami area and has now moved on to national prominence on the stages of ESPN TV and radio. Le Batard bought billboards in Cleveland to mock LeBron James in his return to his home state. The billboards say ‘You’re welcome, LeBron… Love, Miami’ with a picture of the two NBA championship rings that James won with the Miami Heat.

ESPN thought this stunt was so horrid that it suspended Le Batard for two days from ESPN TV and radio. Two days for a joke on a billboard. A joke that is actually kind of funny.

Let’s translate what we are really learning from ESPN: saying that women provoke domestic violence is only three days worse than a billboard joke that literally harms no one.

How out of touch are you, ESPN?

Yes, we can have our own views in this country, but there are also views that you can’t let the public know about. Your views have to be ‘politically correct’ in order to not be beaten down with every move that you make. Stephen A. Smith’s comments were far from being ‘politically correct’ and so farfetched that it almost seems like a story from the satirical newspaper/website The Onion.

Dan Le Batard on the other hand made a joke. A joke he’s been talking about openly on ESPN platforms ever since LeBron James officially returned to Cleveland. If you can’t stop your own employee from doing something you don’t want them to do when you have fair warning, that’s a management failure and shouldn’t be taken out on the talent.

Get your head out of your ass, ESPN. Realize what’s a joke, what simply can’t be said and that First Take might be the shittiest thing that’s ever been on TV, which is saying something since we’re living in the era of Jersey Shore and Keeping Up With The Kardashians.

Stop giving the shaft to great shows like Outside the Lines and Olbermann. Stop killing the dreams of intelligent sports nuts. There’s a reason I watch my Canadians.