The Church shimmer in historic performance
by Jessica Price – SGN A&E Writer
“Adjectives are plentiful when it comes to Australian band The Church, yet a tidy summation is elusive. Over the years, they’ve seemed a bit like sculptors shaping the evolving landscape of their sound. ‘Neo-psychedelic’ and ‘progressive’ don’t completely jibe with vocalist Steve Kilbey’s free-association lyrics paired with the cascading interplay of sometimes up to four guitars (courtesy of Marty Willson-Piper, Peter Koppes, and touring protégé Craig Wilson).
The Church is definitely a band heavy on the atmosphere, but just as easily inspire grown men and women to air guitar. I witnessed this myself at The Triple Door last Monday, as The Church presented three essential albums back to back: Untitled #23, Priest=Aura, and Starfish (each marking one decade of their career). To convey the experience is to view it through the lens of the albums, and the albums are mighty.
Diving into a four-hour commitment with any band is questionable, but The Church presented the evening’s selections concisely so that the subterranean Triple Door was a fitting way to sit back and soak it in. Kilbey and company started with 2009’s Untitled #23, crystallizing the album’s undulations without going off the rails into 10-minute jam sessions with hours remaining. ‘Pangaea’ and ‘Happenstance’ shimmered; the band looking a bit older and wiser, but ultra-cool – Kilbey wore what suspiciously appeared to be leather trousers (or perhaps slightly iridescent black jeans).
‘I’m deliberately minimizing my incredible charm so as not to derail the flow of the record,’ he said, leading into ‘Space Savior.’ ‘Anchorage’ was momentarily plagued with sound issues; Marty Willson-Piper’s monstrous pedal board apparently had a faulty Big Muff (purchased in Portland, he was quick to point out).
After a brief intermission (and ‘costume’ changes for all) came Priest=Aura, considered by many to be the crown jewel of the band’s career. ‘Ripple,’ ‘The Disillusionist’ and ‘Kings’ were standouts. The layered ‘Chaos’ deftly moved from raucous into delicate, and back again. Thirty years of playing together has perfectly distilled the connection between the original members, plus longtime drummer Tim Powles. It didn’t feel like a nostalgia tour or an older band cashing in on the accomplishments of the past. The Church never broke up – playing together is what they’ve done, and done expertly, for years.
Though Priest is critically lauded, Starfish remains one of the most flawless albums of all time and was the evening’s high point. Born of the frustration of living in L.A. and relating to an alien environment, Starfish is foreboding, prophetic, shimmering, deep, and desolate – a masterpiece from the ominously gorgeous ‘Destination’ to closer ‘Hotel Womb.’ Seeing Starfish in its entirety was an incredible thrill. ‘Under the Milky Way,’ their biggest hit, is ageless, and through fan favorites ‘Reptile’ and Marty Willson-Piper’s ‘Spark,’ The Church loosed their remaining energy.
Historically, by the time ‘Under the Milky Way’ became a runaway hit, the band already had four albums under the belt – 1988’s acclaimed Starfish was merely a quarter of the way into what currently totals over 20 albums. The Church release records continuously, with never more than a three-year gap in between (which has only happened twice since 1986) plus a healthy dose of extracurricular recording projects. They’ve persevered through label interference, ill-advised producer pairings, personality conflicts, and unbelievable tangles with a bankrupt U.S. distributor. The Church has prevailed and come out on top with Untitled #23 and the winding discography of a career band.
Most tours with pre-packaged, former albums done in entirety seem like a thinly veiled attempt to win back a lost audience; The Church remains light years from being a nostalgia act. Their fans remain dedicated because the band’s sense of self-discovery is still shining and intact.”