Before launching into “Pledge Allegiance to the Hag,” his ode to country music legend Merle Haggard, Eric Church pleaded with the 11,000 fans at Intrust Bank Arena on Saturday night to offer every ounce of energy they had.
It was a fair request for Church to make because he reached that level of enthusiasm during his first song, “Country Music Jesus,” and maintained it until the last note of “Springsteen,” the final song of the night.
Church, the headliner of the Blood, Sweet & Beers tour that included Kip Moore and Justin Moore and stopped in Wichita Saturday night to play for a sold-out crowd, delivered his mission statement early in his 90-minute set. Declaring in “How ‘Bout You” that he preferred rocking country, he provided just that for most of his 22-song performance.
Church’s show was the first at IBA to mandate paperless ticketing for floor seats and much of the lower bowl. According to some fans, the experiment had glaring weaknesses, but those seemed mostly forgotten as Church’s passion forced fans to reach what he said was a high bar of emotion set during earlier concert dates.
The dedication to Haggard wasn’t the only throwback to the era known as Outlaw Country, perfected by the likes of Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Charlie Daniels, among others. Church has used the foundation built by those artists and put his own mark on an edgier sound, delving into topics not touched on by many performers.
After “Over When It’s Over,” the banner behind Church that depicted an American flag dropped in favor of one that included a personal logo with Church’s name surrounded by a skull, antlers and cannabis leaves. In front of that banner, Church performed “I’m Gettin’ Stoned,” describing his coping mechanism for the loss of a lover.
Church went back into that territory for the first of three encore songs, “Smoke a Little Smoke,” but not before energizing fans with upbeat songs such as “Hell on the Heart,” “Creepin’” and “Guys Like Me” and an elaborate stage show that featured strobe lights, flames and showers of sparks.
Though the first half of the set included mellow rockers “Jack Daniels” and “Hungover and Hard Up,” Church didn’t reach a true slowdown moment until a trio of acoustic songs that had Church performing by himself, with a guitar, in front of a black curtain and under a spotlight.
The three-song stretch concluded with “Love Your Love The Most” and led into Church’s first No. 1 single, last year’s “Drink In My Hand.” “Homeboy” concluded Church’s main set, and his encore consisted of “Smoke a Little Smoke,” “These Boots” and “Springsteen,” his breakout 2012 hit that climbed into the mainstream top 20.
Many fans endured the first try for the paperless system, and it drew the ire of some. Tickets for the lower bowl and floor seating could only be collected with a scan of the credit card with which they were purchased. Glitches included a failure by arena personnel to scan cards correctly and a system that declined cards several times before they were accepted.
Jaclyn Herndon and Darin Gilson attended the show as part of a group of eight. They bought four tickets Saturday and four previously, and the credit card used to buy the first four tickets was initially declined. They were sent to the box office to work out the problem along with, they said, many others.
“It wasn’t very efficient,” Herndon said.
Christine Pileckas, IBA’s director of sales and marketing, said the arena experienced minor problems expected for the paperless system’s first implementation.
“(The) process takes a little longer but (it was) very smooth for a first time with 11,000-plus coming through,” Pileckas said in a text message during the concert.
When fans made their way inside, they were treated to performances by up-and-comers Moore and Moore (no relation), and by Church, who blended an old-school country sound with a rocking style he has made his signature during a relatively brief career.