The Church
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The Church




How do you even begin to describe the excitement of seeing a favourite band revisit a landmark album live – as a once off? What’s more, it’s an album that has weathered incredibly well after 43 years – no betting person in their right mind would have ever considered these numbers would come up… but for just one night, they have… the band is The Church and the album in question is their quite brilliant sophomore release, The Blurred Crusade.

The queue outside 170 Russell on Friday night runs around the block and as it nears the performance time of 9pm, there are a few hundred, understandably anxious, punters still trying to get in. It’s a massive turnout, and deservedly so. Long-time fans realise that as a band intent on always moving forward, it’s not often that the Church are prone to revisit past glories and as such fans have been quick to pounce on this hen’s-tooth opportunity…

The Church

If reports are to be believed, we largely have new recruit, Ian Haug (ex Powderfinger) to thank for this current state of affairs. Apparently, when he took up the post as second guitarist – after the much loved Marty Willson-Piper departed – Ian was sent away with the complete Church discography to listen to. Reportedly he came back to Steve, Peter and Tim with a huge list of songs he was keen to play… material Kilbey concedes they hardly remembered writing – let alone even performed!

So here we are… The band have considerately conceded a later start time so thankfully everyone is comfortably settled in plenty of time.

The stage is bathed in deep blue as shadowy figures enter stage left, through knee-deep smoke, to rapturous applause… I spot Church regular Craig Wilson on Keyboards and third guitar on the riser so tonight the Church are a 5 piece...
A momentary pause as instruments are checked in the half light and then powerful side lights flatteringly profile Steve Kilbey at the microphone in two-toned crimson and cyan, perfectly echoing the aesthetic of the gorgeous tour poster…. Pure class on the lighting guys behalf. We’re off to a great start.

"Good evening Ladies and Gentleman...We’re called the Church... and we give you ‘The Blurred Crusade’ “.

The Church

Tim Powles' drum roll slides us straight into the gorgeous lilt of ‘Almost With You’, the sole top 30 single from ‘Crusade'… Peter Koppes and his compadre are instantly aligned, eyeing each other off for interplay cues. Kilbey stands fixed to the spot, head back, eyes closed, channelling the vibe… rumours abounded before the gig that Steve had a case of laryngitis, but happily, for now, that velvet voice is right on mark – it’s all systems go… Five giant overhead cinematic spots warmly pulse along the back wall behind the band and insistently mirror Powles' tempo... I look around to gauge the audience reaction and notice many punters silently mouthing all the lyrics, subconsciously not wanting to break any spells or ruin the magic for those around them… The song's iconic flamenco-styled solo is fully electric tonight, as Peter – in his characteristic nonchalance – flawlessly lays it down, just as he has thousands of times before. At song’s end, the cheers are deafening and Kilbey smiles wryly… there are obviously a fair few here as excited to see this as I am!

Squalling guitar feedback builds, eclipsing the audience’s applause. The driving backbeat of ‘When You Were Mine’ elicits a huge "OH YEAAAAAAH!" from someone just behind me. Over a couple of minutes, the band have slowly built the tempo and we now find ourselves in a full canter – the impetus of the track is massive – seemingly unstoppable – the duelling guitars implore each other on: shimmering, stabbing, even scratching their parts in brilliant counterplay to Steve’s propulsive baselines. Even as he sings "...a hundred lifetimes ago..” – I reflect the song may be old and mystic – sure – but it’s lost none of it’s impact… all the hallmarks of The Church are on full display at this moment and we're at once reminded WHY this band is so great… I spot all the familiar faces from the Church Army right up the front with heads flailing about... losing themselves in the rapture… We’re only two songs in, and it’s already heady stuff.

'Field of Mars' is next, and as I listen to Steve sing his old friend’s vocal part I am at once reminded how much I miss Marty Willson-Piper... But hey, this is life, and change is inevitable. I reason to myself that this very same change brought us Richard Ploog AND Tim Powles, so – on the whole – it’s no bad thing.

‘An Interlude’ follows with more of Steve’s mystic lyrics: "They're going to send you away" she said / Psychic angels spread on the top of her head / And in the compartments of my dread / The rush hour crush travels home to bed”… Potent lyrical imagery indeed. As before with ‘When you were Mine’ earlier, in the instrumental break, the pedals are pushed squarely to the metal and the band fairly screams along at a breakneck pace.

The short and quite saccharine 'Secret Corners’ is seemingly over in a blink of an eye and then we hear the familiar acoustic intro to 'Just For You’… (Those familiar with the original recording know we hear Steve practicing alone in his room, when he is interrupted by a knock on the door. We hear the sound of his footsteps walking over, the door creaks open and the song proper floods in.) It is a wonderful sonic moment on the original vinyl – and they honour its integrity tonight by having Haug play the acoustic intro and then knock on the body of his acoustic…”Hark!…Hark!... Come on in!”, Kilbey grins as the band kick in and the full bodied warmth of the song rushes in. The vibe is unanimously joyous among those down the front and smiles of contentment abound.

“Thankyou Ladies and Gentlemen. Now we are going to do some REAL rock’n roll…" More stabbing chords from Koppes as the intro to ‘A Fire Burns’ cascades in. Steve’s characteristic sliding baselines sensitively underpin the sustained solos from the Koppes and Haug. It’s truly sublime to behold these guys revisiting this material.

“Alright, Alright…who here likes really romantic songs?"

(Cheers from the audience)

"Cos’ I f***kin don’t! Seriously, only for YOUR pleasure, performing this one – about a colourful local identity – here it is – get your hankies out…” Although not one of Steve’s favourites to perform live, the heartfelt and downright smaltzy ‘To Be In Your Eyes’ follows – I secretly smile inside, knowing that for more than a few people here tonight, this is their FAVOURITE song off the album. They will be well pleased.

The cyclical four note bass intro signals it’s time for the classic ‘You Took’… Powles really comes into his own here – I watch him intently for the duration of the song. As this epic begins, he becomes designated driver, timekeeper and air-traffic-controller rolled into one. He eeks out just enough rope for Ian and Peter to fly off on tangental solos – and then, when it’s time, winds them back in with his fills and time changes. As the song reaches one of it’s many climaxes, Kilbey turns to face Powles, hunched double over his bass. His right hand is silhouetted perfectly against the white of the bass drum, and from where I stand it’s a flurry of fingers. The sweat pours off his forehead as he intently motors the band on and on. As he turns back around to the audience to deliver his vocal, he is greeted with a boisterous chorus from the floor – who belt out the words at the absolute top of their lungs…
“YOU... took a piece of MY HEART! and I... DON”T... KNOW... WHY! It was clear... in coming here... I must have put the HORSE... BEFORE... THE... CART!” Kilbey chuckles in appreciation and lets us sing out the entire verse. It is one of the night’s highlights and I don’t know who deserves the applause more – the band, or the audience… Simply outstanding.

The slow velvety warm-down of album closer 'Don’t Look Back’ follows – which is a lovely comedown after the sonic workout of 'You Took’... and then, just when we’re starting to think it’s all over, Kilbey points an urgent finger at us and intones “But wait, Ladies and Gentlemen!… there IS more...!”

He then proceeds to blindside us completely by trotting out a long-lost ‘Blurred Crusade' B-side – the underrated “Life Speeds Up”… huge whoops and hollers from the crowd. It’s not until I hear it played live that I begin to realise just what a fantastically exciting track it is. It's classic four-piece foreplay. Haug and Koppes nail the interchange solos. Steve’s vocal is EXACTLY 1982 as he sings angstly:
"The push and the throb / The threat of the mob / The crack's not a secret this time / The mouths and the doors / That I can't shut anymore / Keep running, you're falling behind"
He swaps the order of a few lines around from the original lyrics but I doubt there’s a soul in the room who would even notice – or if they did – could give two hoots at this stage. We’re all in absolute heaven.

The Church

Steve promises a selection of tracks from their 2014 release, Further Deeper plus some older cuts and tells us not to go anywhere. An exhausted band towel down and take a short break between sets while eager pundits jam the merch desk for tshirts, and posters featuring a brilliant contemporary reinterpretation of the iconic Knights & Bird 'Blurred Crusade' cover.

20 minutes elapse and now the stage is now bathed in a stark red wash. The second set kicks off with 'Vanishing Man', a particularly dark, sombre piece followed by ‘Delirious’ which contains the following intriguing lyrics – perhaps even relating to Steve’s songwriting craft:
“If anyone thinks this is easy /When everyone thinks it's deliberately done / These pieces are easy, they try to put them all together / It's impossible, do you think you could please me”

For me though, it isn’t really until we get to the third song in the set, the trance-like ‘Toyhead’ that the tempo changes around noticeably, the guitars really kick in and Peter’s squalling drone-like solo sustain elevates Steve's narrative. A great track.

After three very similar moody tracks in a row, the tone changes to something a little lighter with the jingle-jangley intro to ‘Laurel Canyon’. It’s a beautiful counterpoint and a warm gold light bathes the band and the audience. Really uplifting.

“OK, now cast your minds back to 1990 if you will… The Church had a song riding high in the charts… wooooooo! Now, Ladies and Gentlemen, here’s a REALLY dirty trick...when the song started to slip out of the charts, we released a LIVE version... and it went straight back INTO the charts...So here it is for you NOW… the LIVE version!”

The familiar strains of ‘Metropolis' ring out and all at once we are transported right back to Los Angeles 1990 in the heady days of 'Gold Afternoon Fix': “Back in Metropolis... circuses and elephants... where the oranges grew”. As I listen to the track I ponder the curious 'Gold Afternoon Fix' album title and wonder about it's origin. I figure that naturally the obvious link would be Steve and Heroin, but I ask a friend after the show, and he duly informs me it actually derives from the stock market term referring to the price that is set daily for buying gold!

It isn’t until we reach the next song, ’The Disillusionist’ that we see Kilbey completely lose himself in the performance. For the first time this evening, he relinquishes his bass for the relative freedom offered by the long lead of the microphone – and all at once is a Circus Barker, imploring us to “Roll Up! Roll Up!... for the Disillusionist! ...Roll Up, Roll Up!”

As he dementedly paces the stage, his free hand gesturing wildly, Steve fairly spits out the kind of evocative couplets he’s famous for… it’s riveting stuff – a diatribe almost delivered as ’stream of consciousness’ …very potent in it’s imagery:

"He alights from the platform, In his usual uniform / His skin looks like he slept in it / Or had somethin' rotten kept in it / And snakes stir in the thistles, Back of cats neck bristles/ 'Round vicious lips the fur is stained / The disillusionist is back again”

At one point Steve appears to be sitting on the stage rowing a boat, and then at other times gesturing like a small boy playing with imaginary sparklers… it is a joy to see Steve finding this new confidence on stage and certainly adds another interesting dynamic to the show, especially in the vaudevillian context of this track.

The impressive ‘Love Philter” off 'Further Deeper’ is next,
and then, a personal favourite, the immense ‘Block’ from 'Uninvited Like The Clouds’ is taken out for a run. Acutely autobiographical lyrics pervade:

"I was down in the city on a miracle street
I flailed like a swimmer through the summer heat
I was waiting for a friend that I needed to meet
And I's hopin' she was bringin' with her something sweet
And I's hopin' for an open little opening
And I suffer for a groovy little happening"

‘Lightning White’, another newer cut sees Ian Haug spend most of the time huddled over his effects board, twiddling knobs. The sonics on this track are amazing and I will definitely be revisiting this one at home.

It’s that time of the night when ‘Under the Milky Way’ is trotted out and is performed without any undue fuss or bother. It’s obviously still relatively new and novel for Haug who plays the acoustic part, but for the others, one senses it’s just all in a days work. Having said that, Koppes' backwards styled E-bow guitar breaks are sublimely gorgeous and I really enjoy watching him nonchalantly toss the e-Bow to his guitar tech at stage right at the end of each extended solo…

Second set closer is the fantastically positive ‘Miami’ which starts languidly slow and then builds in tempo and volume – please forgive the metaphor I kept getting in my head as I watched – but for me, it was much like watching a giant earth-mover with a full load picking up speed as it rumbles down the highway… Again, Powle is the driver here, high up in the cab with all the power of the machine at his disposal… It’s a very measured assault and is truly terrific to witness… Peter plays a repeated pluck which is insistently driving the song onward. Ian, meanwhile produces gorgeously pretty little flourishes that are a brilliant countermeasure and weave effortlessly in and out of Peter’s stand-mounted harmonica solos. The song builds to a crescendo with Steve again bent double over his bass smashing out the intense rhythm until they can't physically take it anywhere else, except to dissipate into a frenzied hailstorm of distortion and feedback which then slowly ebbs away… The band members progressively finish their parts until all we are left with is Ian strumming plaintively on acoustic. Unbelievable performing guys, just sensational…

The band return for a encore. We get 'Day 5’, followed by a Powderfinger cover of ‘Waiting For the Sun’ and then a euphoric set closer... By way of introduction Kilbey hisses at the crowd and then, spread legged, leans heavily into his bass, eliciting his huge trademark bass slides, as Powles pounds out the introduction. Haugy rips out Marty’s repetitive 9 note riff as Peter roars out of the gates, Yes, it's 'Reptile' and the crowd, quite understandably go completely off their collective nut.

At 25 songs and a little over two and a half hours (not including the break between sets) which is fairly long for a Church gig, Steve’s voice was struggling a little towards the end but full marks must be given to him for his showmanship and tenacity. It has to be said, having seen many many shows by these guys over the years, that this was truly one of the standouts – a show for the ages. It was a terrific evening out – and most importantly, the band certainly appeared to have been loving doing the show and the warm reception the new and old material received.

If you do get a chance to check out The Church performing ‘Blurred Crusade’ in it’s entirety, it is a show NOT to be missed.

The Church

First Set - The Blurred Crusade
Almost With You
When You Were Mine
Fields of Mars
An Interlude
Secret Corners
Just for You
A Fire Burns
To Be in Your Eyes
You Took
Don't Look Back
Life Speeds Up

Second Set
Vanishing Man
Delirious
Toy Head
Laurel Canyon
Metropolis
The Disillusionist
Love Philtre
Block
Lightning White
Under the Milky Way
Miami

Encore
Day 5
Waiting for the Sun (Powderfinger cover)
Reptile

The Church’s remaining dates in Australia:

16 JUL SETTLERS TAVERN, MARGARET RIVER WA
17 JUL PRINCE OF WALES, BUNBURY WA
18 JUL THE ROSEMOUNT, PERTH WA

The Church tour the States in August through September in tow with special guests, The Psychedelic Furs, which is a sensational double bill.

The Church 2015 – North American Tour Dates

* – With The Psychedelic Furs

8/7/2015 Toronto, ON The Danforth

8/8/2015 Buffalo, NY Town Ballroom*

8/9/2015 Silver Spring, MD The Fillmore Silver Spring*

8/11/2015 New Haven, CT College Street Music Hall*

8/12/2015 Albany, NY Northern Lights*

8/13/2015 Hampton Beach, NH Hampton Beach Casino*

8/14/2015 Portland, ME The Asylum

8/15/2015 Philadelphia, PA Keswick Theater*

8/16/2015 Hyannis, MA Cape Cod Melody Tent*

8/18/2015 New York, NY Irving Plaza*

8/19/2015 Westbury, NY Theater at Westbury*

8/20/2015 New Brunswick, NJ State Theatre*

8/21/2015 Pittsburgh, PA Altar Bar

8/22/2015 Royal Oak, MI Royal Oak Music Theatre*

8/23/2015 Louisville, KY Mercury Ballroom*

8/25/2015 Minneapolis, MN First Avenue*

8/26/2015 Milwaukee, WI Turner Hall Ballroom

8/27/2015 Kansas City, MO Crossroads*

8/28/2015 Urbana, IL Sweet Corn Festival* FREE

8/29/2015 Chicago, IL Old Town School Of Folk

8/31/2015 Denver, CO Ogden Theater*

9/2/2015 Portland, OR Crystal Ballroom*

9/3/2015 Seattle, WA Showbox at The Market*

9/5/2015 Petaluma, CA Mystic Theatre

9/6/2015 Saratoga, CA Mountain Winery*

9/8/2015 Las Vegas, NV Brooklyn Bowl*

9/9/2015 San Diego, CA North Park Theater*

9/10/2015 Los Angeles, CA The Roxy
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