Eric Church didn't play a hit song until nearly 30 minutes into a record-setting set in Nashville on Friday night (May 26), and nobody cared.

In fact, there's an argument to be made that his opening assault was the highlight, except that no dip in intensity or energy followed. An offstage, uncredited version of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah" formally opened the show, creating an impossible-to-ignore tension across the packed (and then some) arena. Finally Church strode beneath an empty spotlight to sing "Mistress Named Music." The song, his very first of the night, ended with a choir of students from East Nashville. It's something most would save for an encore.

Now that's damn rock 'n' roll.

The hallmarks of most Nashville country concerts were missing during the first of Church's back-to-back shows. There were no guest artists, fireworks, gushy stories about how the singer played just across the street in hopes that maybe one day ... The Holdin' My Own Tour is free of every possible country cliche. The 40-year-old's unique take on the 360 stage brings him close to fans, but this overwhelming sense that he's feeding off the crowd's energy adds 16 feet to his already tall frame. That in itself is kind of a cliche — every artist claims he or she is being fueled by the fans — but with Church it's like if someone pulled the plug he'd simply collapse like a wind sock guy plugged in outside of a car dealership.

Watch: Eric Church's Most Bada-- Moments

"The Outsiders," "Knives of New Orleans" and "Drink in My Hand" came early. A constant roar continued between "Cold One" and "Mr. Misunderstood." McKinley Smay, the kid who appears on the Mr. Misunderstood album cover, joined him to jam for this song. Clear cups were thrust into the air involuntarily at the pinnacle of the first 90 minutes. Nothing was scripted or called for from fans on this night. No "Do me a favor and pull your cell phone lights out." No "Can y'all wave your hands back and forth like this for me?"

And then he did it all over again. A second 90-minute-long set started with "Ain't Killed Me Yet" and "Guys Like Me." "Kill a Word" found him with his talented backup vocalist Joanna Cotten. Covers of Ben Harper and the Grateful Dead found their way into the set and he brought it home with hits like "Creepin'," soft favorites like "Three-Year-Old" and the rowdy fan favorite "These Boots."

Just under 19,000 people stuffed into seats and standing areas to see the show, setting a new Bridgestone Arena record that he'll likely break again on Saturday night. It's a rare concert ticket to hold onto as proof that you were there when.

Each generation struggles to understand what the appeal of the previous generation's icon truly was. Fans who are Church's age don't truly get the Beatles. Younger fans can't truly appreciate Garth Brooks etc ... Very few "get" Chris LeDoux. When you see Church you do, though. You get how so many people can be so wholeheartedly taken by a man with a guitar. "Loyalty" isn't the right word. "Devotion" comes closer. It's all earned and reciprocated by a songwriter who clawed for the right to sell out his hometown arena twice in one weekend. It's the greatest live spectacle in country music right now, because it's not a spectacle.

It's unmatched courage and honesty dressed in denim, a black T-shirt and sunglasses.

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