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4/17/24 residency show

A Normal Night

It was a normal night at Chief’s.

It was the second night of Eric Church’s “To Beat the Devil” residency on the third and fourth floors. On the second floor, at Friendly Shadows, the pianos were dueling. On the fifth floor, at Hell of a Q, the barbecue was whole hog.

And at the Neon Steeple, Church was telling stories. Most you haven’t heard before, even if you’re a diehard fan. Many can’t be repeated here, because as he reminded the 350 very lucky Church Choir members, they were for this room only (no phones allowed).

But he was talking about the start of his career, and he was talking about “Two Pink Lines.”

That’s when a lady near the front shouted, “Two Pink Lions!”

Church paused for a second. That one changed word is a key to identifying Chief fans who have been there since the beginning. They know that Church’s mother, Rita, originally misheard the song as Two Pink Lions. That’s why the wallpaper in the restrooms of Chief’s Tavern on the first floor features two pink lions.

But most people don’t know that story. It’s a deep cut from Church lore. So when she shouted out, “Two Pink Lions!” he had to pause.

“You,” he said from the stage with a raised eyebrow, “have been paying attention.”

In this room, though, she was not unique. This room was full of Church Choir members who were fully committed to seeing a show—any show—of the residency. No one purposely picks a Wednesday night in April as their first choice for a concert. But tickets went quickly to all 19 shows, completely selling out before they ever reached a public sale, and not everyone can go on a Friday or Saturday, so here we are on a Wednesday.

Eric Church on stage at Neon Steeple

You won’t find the set list here, because it’s more fun to discover it when you go to Chief’s for one of the shows. But let’s put it this way: when Church broke into some of the best-loved songs from his first album, the entire room started singing as soon as he played the first couple of notes. It was like they had all been told to turn over to a certain page in the hymn book…but everyone had already memorized the hymn book.

By the time he got to “Springsteen,” (come on, that’s not a spoiler, you knew it would be in there somewhere) he just looked out at the crowd and said, “You do it.” And they did, every word. As a reward, he gave them a little tidbit about a certain part of the song, one that they’ll go home and tell their friends. And the friends will probably look at them skeptically, and they’ll reply, “Eric told me that the other night at Chief’s,” and how can you argue with that?

“This place,” Church told them, “is about stories I can only tell to you and songs I can only play to you.”

Like any good Church show, it is not flawless. At one point, he forgot a line. “I seriously forgot the hell out of this one,” he said with a grin.

“That’s OK,” a fan shouted from row F. “We’ve got you!”

And they did, because they just kept singing it perfectly. Church had become a backup singer at an Eric Church show.

It is very hard to leave one of the residency shows without a new friend or two. The seats are close together and you’re going to know your neighbor, but it’s not really about proximity. It’s about the fact that in such a small venue, everyone in the room who put in the effort to be here arrives with the same soundtrack to the last 20 years.

“I want this to be,” Church told them, “like a moment in a living room.” Which was fitting, because later in the night he was sitting in Chief’s Den in a secluded part of the building. The music from Friendly Shadows could be heard inside the room, and singer Ben Kadlecek was playing a slowed-down version of “Sinners Like Me” on the piano. It was not a planned moment. There was no script.

But Church looked around, and he nodded his head, and he said, “Let’s do this.” So he put on his sunglasses and walked out into the second floor, where he was greeted with a significant amount of shrieking and a very surprised piano player. At Kadlecek’s request, Church sang the third verse with him. When they finished, Kadlecek looked at the Wednesday night crowd.

“Could somebody,” he asked, “please pinch me?”

It was a normal night at Chief’s.