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The Church, B.B. King’s & Highline Ballroom, NYC: Wish I knew what you were looking for February 17, 2011

Posted by Anton A in Australian music, Church.
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Textures. Beyond the brilliant songwriting, it’s the sonic textures that make The Church my favorite band on the planet. You can tell how much attention they pay to getting the right sound for every song. A dazzling blend of guitar tones from Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, astute drumming by Tim Powles and sharp bass playing from Steve Kilbey waxes and wanes from melodic to dissonant to ethereal and back again; it’s stunning ensemble work that frames Kilbey’s distinctive baritone voice as he intones a rush of imaginative lyrics that wander from wry to surreal: The Church sound like no other band, and create a memorable flow of music that resonates deep in my brain.

Thirty years on, the Australian band (though as Marty will tell you, there’s only one Aussie in the group) is still reaching new peaks of recording and performance. They are at their best on their current Future Past Perfect tour, which crossed the U.S. this month and came to New York for two nights. As on their previous Intimate Space tour, the show marches deliberately backwards through time, this year with performances of three full albums: Untitled #23, their latest neo-psych gem; Priest=Aura, a masteripiece of surrealism from 1992 with dark currents running through it; and Starfish from 1988, one of their most accessible and melodic albums, which catapulted them out of Australia and put them onto the world pop charts with the single Under The Milky Way.

The Church gave their enthusiastic New York fans three full hours of music in a nearly four-hour evening, with two short intermissions. It’s a fascinating way to stage a show: if you’re a serious fan, you walk into the evening knowing exactly what the setlist will be; there are no surprises there, though you know you’re going to hear songs that the band has never performed in concert. Everything hinges on the performance itself, and they brought it off spectacularly.

Steve, Peter, Marty and keyboardist Craig Wilson are all multi-instrrumentalists; the stage manager and another hand were constantly handing off Rickenbackers, Fenders, other guitars, basses and a mandolin, sometimes in mid-song so that someone could add the right texture at the necessary moment. On Anchorage, towards the end of the first set, both Peter and stage manager Wes Gregorace played bass, with the other three on guitars, each playing a distinctive part to build a huge work of sonic architecture, with “the divine Tiare Helberg,” per Steve’s introduction, adding a whispery female voice to the complex textures for just that one song. She is also the band’s tour manager; The Church is an ongoing effort where everyone plays multiple roles.

Marty handles the bass on a number of the songs, with Steve either playing guitar or simply declaiming the songs and working the stage. He’s developed a unique style of gesture, maybe a blend of modern dance and what seem to be a sorcerer’s incantatory passes, that paints an appropriate mood for the lyrics when he works the stage. As front man, he also delivered bits of amusing patter (“The strength of your New York charisma has made my instrument go out of tune!”) in between songs.

There were new approaches to many of the songs. From Starfish, Peter played a softer version of the burn-into-your-brain riff that underpins Destination. Milky Way was more driving and authoritative than the recorded version, Reptile hissed and slithered, propelled by Marty’s sparkling high-note arpeggios on a black Rickenbacker. Hotel Womb was made heavy and dramatic, reimagined to be a great show closer with passionate vocals from Steve.

Peter’s fluid, intelligent playing shone all night, but seemed particularly to come to the fore in the Starfish set. Tim Powles’ drumming was wonderfully crisp, a model of playing to enhance every song. As on their last tour, Craig Wilson filled out the sound on keys, guitar and occasional percussion.

There were so many highlights, I’ll never get them all. Steve’s dramatic front-man intepretation of The Disullusionist, from Priest=Aura, gave the song a new edge that was sharpened by the ferocity of the band. Ripple, a fan favorite, was sublime, with Marty giving the crowd a wicked dose of lead guitar. Chaos is a ten-minute epic that shows that the Church can do art/damage/noise with the best of them; the live version was intense, with Steve acting out the song, crouching, stumbling and covering his ears as if the sounds of dissonant feedback were driving him mad during the instrumental sections..

A note for musicians: the entire Priest=Aura album performance on this tour featured a six-string bass that looked like a customized purple Fender Broadcaster. Steve played it using a pick, occasionally wandering into the high notes to get distinctive tones for certain passages. He handed this special instrument off to Craig Wilson for The Disillusionist and a couple of other songs.

These were epic performances of deeply rich music, inspiringly conceived and executed by a band and a crew with a rare sense of focus. For my money, we won’t see anything better until the next time The Church returns to our shores.

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The Church, City Winery, NYC: An Intimate Space April 22, 2010

Posted by Anton A in Australian music, Church.
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The Church show was incredible, of course, how could it be anything else? They were so on top of every song. Marty played Rickenbacker bass on quite a few of them while Kilbey either played guitar or simply sang. Peter switched between 12 string, 6 string, mandolin, & keys; he also had a neckstand harmonica for several tunes, including the “lead” break in Milky Way. Powles was brilliant despite an injured right hand, which he had wrapped in bandage tape for the performance.
 
We fans all know the setlist already but I’ll post it again below. So many amazing moments. Marty pounding on a kettle drum to punctuate Space Needle. The whole band just rocking the hell out of Invisible, probably the best performance of the night, but there were many contenders. Comedown was gorgeous, 10,000 Miles shimmered, and they drained everything out of the encore set. It’s remarkable, the richness & sonic depth they created with such sparse instrumentation & their voices.

We hung out for an hour & a half after the show ended, chatted with Tim & Marty and unexpectedly wound up in a long conversation with Peter Koppes. (Kilbey made a brief appearance in the room but kept himself backstage for the most part.) The City Winery had bottled a special Church wine with a “Deadman’s Wine” label, which they sold at the bar; during the show, Kilbey urged us to buy a bottle & stay afterwards to get the labels autographed, at which point we could sell it on eBay. My friend Landon bought a bottle so that was a natural lead-in to speaking with the guys, though we never got to Kilbey. They were all very gracious, & we could have gotten Steve to sign if we’d moved faster.

After getting the signatures, Landon would proceed to tell everyone about the tea book he is writing; that stuck a chord with Peter, who is a fellow tea drinker. He gave Landon a quote for the book (I think it was “I’ve never regretted drinking any cup of tea”) & the conversation spiralled out from there. Peter says that the one Australian band we need to listen to, apart from The Church, is Ice House.

Marty confirmed that, for the next tour, they are thinking of doing a “classic album” run, playing one old album & one new one straight through, likely Starfish and Untitled #23. He stresses that this is far from definite so don’t get too excited yet.

Afterwards, still exhilarated, we walked up from Vandam St. through the Village to where I was parked at 5th Ave. & 18th St.  I got home at 2:30. THAT was a New York City night.

A note about the club: it’s like what BB King’s ought to be if that place were properly run. You’re still packed in but the tables aren’t quite so close together. The staff is, without exception, pleasant & courteous. The servers time their movements so that they do stuff between songs & during the set breaks; someone has obviously put thought into that aspect of running the club & they do a great job of minimizing distractions from the performance. I would not hesitate to see other acts there.

Finally: 

Set 1: Pangaea, Space Needle, Reptile, Ionian Blues, The Unguarded Moment, Appalatia, Invisible, Louisiana, Comedown, My Little Problem
 
Set 2: Mistress, Metropolis, Under the Milky Way, Already Yesterday, 10,000 Miles, Fly, Almost With You, Tear It All Away

Encores: Disarm, Space Saviour, Grind

The Church, Irving Plaza, NYC: This kind of thing needs a little secrecy July 8, 2009

Posted by Anton A in Australian music, Church.
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I’ll proably have more to say later, but just have to register that Tantalized was one of the ballsiest, most mind-blowing opening songs I’ve ever seen from any band. The intro, before they even got into the song itself, was like having your head stuck in a piledriver for about 3 minutes. I mean that in a good way.

The Church are known for their dreamy psychedelia, intertwining guitars and excellent sense of melody, but damn, they bring the raw energy to the stage along with all that.

Setlist: Tantalized, Block, Day 5, North South East and West, Happenstance, After Everything, Almost With You, A Month of Sundays, Deadman’s Hand, Pangaea, You Took, Operetta, Under the Milky Way, Reptile
Encore 1: An Interlude, Space Saviour
Encore 2: Hotel Womb

Adam Franklin, formerly of Swervedriver, and his Bolts Of Melody band opened.

The Church, Bowery Ballroom, NYC: Asleep inside a dream March 8, 2004

Posted by Anton A in Australian music, Church.
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The Church were on tour in support of yet another superb album, Forget Yourself. If you know these songs, you’ll know how magnificent the show was.

Sealine
Telepath
Radiance
Chromium
Nothing Seeker
Steve Kilbey says:  “Here’s a song that I co-wrote with Antonin Artaud in 1920.  Antonin and I came up with the pefect title for it:  The Theatre & Its Double.”
Reptile
Maya (with cello by Anne of opening band Sea Ray)
Appalatia
Destination
Milky Way
Numbers
See Your Lights
Song In Space / segues into
Tantalized

encore 1:
Cantilever

encore 2:
Myrrh
You Took