Eric Church is a bada--, arena-headlining rock star -- and he's embraced it. Church has been headlining arenas and major venues for a few years now, but on his The Outsiders World Tour in early 2015, the country star seemed just slightly unsure of himself. Then, Church was performing in large spaces the way he might in smaller, club-style settings; now, on his 2017 Holdin' My Own Tour, he's leaning in to what it means to be an arena-sized country rocker, and his show is stronger for it.

Between the high school choir that helped out during "Mistress Named Music;" backup vocalist Joanna Cotten going toe-to-toe with Church during "That's Damn Rock & Roll;" and the big, loud and downright brash version of "The Outsiders" that Church and his band delivered on Thursday night (April 20) at Buffalo, N.Y.'s KeyBank Center, there was no mistaking that Church was ready to rock. And those were only the first three songs.

Church's first set on Thursday night featured a solid mix of older and newer material: He followed "How 'Bout You" and "Sinners Like Me," both from Church's very first record, with The Outsiders' "Cold One" and "Talladega," and Mr. Misunderstood's title track and "'Round Here Buzz." The cinematic "Knives of New Orleans" -- another song from Church's newest album -- flowed easily into the party anthem "Drink in My Hand;" that it wasn't a jarring transition is a credit to Church's skill as an artist.

Before playing "Drink in My Hand," Church recalled some of his previous stops in Buffalo -- one of the few times he paused in between songs to chat with the audience. Rather than banter with fans or his band, Church found other ways to interact with the crowd throughout his three-hour set: During "Drink in My Hand," for example, he strode around the stage, high-fiving and shaking hands with fans in the pit.

Near the end of the night, Church grabbed a Sharpie and signed a number of the cowboy boots that fans held up in the air during "These Boots;" he continued signing even after the song was over, letting his band and the cheering crowd fill the silence. When a fan threw a checkered racing flag up onstage during "Talladega," Church grabbed it and wore it like a scarf throughout the rest of the song (then signed it and threw it back).

With the clock passing concerts' usual ending time of 11PM, Church launched into "Jack Daniels" ... and, with it, some actual Jack. During an interlude in the song, Church handed his drink to a fan in the pit -- the second time that night he passed over his cup -- and ran backstage to pour shots for his crew and a new drink for himself. A camera followed to catch the action, a fun move to keep the crowd amped up for the show's final few songs.

One of Church's finest qualities as a performer, though, is how he references his history in a city and goes beyond simply name-dropping that night's location a few times throughout his show; he makes it feel like it's not just another show. About halfway through his second set on Thursday night, one of Church's roadies brought a lighted clipboard out onstage, as Church told the packed arena that he and he band were going to try a song they'd never played before: a Willie Nelson song that calls out Buffalo.

"This is the best chance for you to see us fall flat on our face," Church joked as they began "Me and Paul," the title track of Nelson's 1985 album. A couple of the song's verses recount "a package show in Buffalo with us / And Kitty Wells and Charley Pride," but Church re-wrote the lines to reference a 2012 outdoor show of his that was postponed just before Church was supposed to take the stage due to bad weather.

Rewriting Willie? Yup, that's a total rock star move.

Church's 2017 Holdin' My Own Tour runs through late May; he'll wrap up the trek with a two-night stand in Nashville on May 26 and 27. More information is available on

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