It was good to see the Church with my friend David. I was reminded that it was with he, more than half a lifetime ago, with whom I first went to see the Church in December 1987 at the Tivoli, the gig that more than likely premiered 'Under the Milky Way Tonight' live. And now some 22 years on, the song was yet again played by the band, and was cast off by Steven's announcement that "we are going to play....that song", swooping his left arm in the direction of Marty who commenced that familiar A minor refrain. The song went down well.
The Church have always been able to offer abundantly more than any of their greatest hits would suggest. For one thing, they were never a "hit" band. 'Unguarded Moment' & 'Almost with you' in Australia, and then 'UTMWT' internationally, is roughly the extent of their major hits. Many fans remain enamoured with the captivating depth of 1992's Priest=Aura and subsequent sonic masters, their current album Untitled #23 notwithstanding. Others love Starfish of 1988 and 'Under the Milky Way'. Some people just love 'Unguarded Moment'. I especially treasure the band's 80's EMI recordings. These recordings encapsulate the period of the band's genesis in 1980 up until 1986 when they were dropped from EMI, and include four full-length albums and three EPs. Recorded in Studio 301 in Castlereagh Street in downtown Sydney, these releases capture the buzz and electricity of the times, and to this day remain masterful examples of rock that tower over most of the remainder of their Australian contemporaries' offerings with their invention, band synergy, uniqueness, craft, lyricism, and sheer verve and magic. Not to mention timelessness.
"Magic" is a key word when describing the Church. The band that you see today has maintained the same line-up for about 13 years now. The frontline - Peter Koppes, Steve Kilbey & Marty Willson-Piper - remains unmoved from 1980. Tim Powles on drums successfully fits in and creates an 'updated' energy to the band, and superbly fills in where the great Richard Ploog from the 80s left off. In watching the Church for the tenth, twelfth, fifteenth time or whatever, I'm struck again by the power of their music. It is the suggested and felt power of uber-dimensionally, outer space and molten lava combined. Many of their songs seem to encapsulate the rise of fall of civilisations, it is that powerful. Steven is a master composer and bassist whose playing is as rock solid as the history of the planet itself. Of the guitarists, Marty is driving and passionate, Peter is deft yet sonically dazzling. These men are of a piece, a tribe. After almost 30 years of being together, this quartet that had its genesis in Canberra before properly forming in Sydney in 1980, The Church have a retained a very loyal worldwide following and remain coveted and followed by many fans internationally.
The Church performed an immensely satisfying set that mixed a range of older tunes with songs off their brilliant new album, Untitled #23. 'Happenstance', 'Pangaea' and 'Operetta' from the new album all feature that classically grand, "aromatic" Church sound with captivating lyrics, melodies, inventive arrangements and chord changes. 'Operetta' sees Steve relinquish his bass and concentrate on vocals only, performing the song with an abandonment and theatricality he probably not have dared do in the past. 'Theatre and its double' with its haunting bass/drum drone and the incessant D minor guitar pattern is one of my favourite Church songs in a live setting.
On 'Operetta', and about three other songs, Marty takes over on bass with Steve playing Marty's Fender Jag (except on 'Operetta' that Steve sings solo). Marty brings his own bass to the gig, a Rickenbacker, while Steve plays his beloved 60s custom Fender Jazz like it was glued to him. Both basses sound tremendously good and its hard to decide which if any of these basses are better than the other. Peter Koppes himself played a lot of guitars during the set, including a Maton electric 12-string that sounded hot and zingy.
The band were in fine form and a positive energy & sense of enjoyment exuded from all members. Peter Koppes was even seen to crack a smile on occasion. Steve's manner was friendly and open and only once did his mischievous sense of humour reveal itself when he said "...we're going to play some Chisel songs...very soon". My laugh was more of low cackle as I thought to myself that I'm likely to be the only person in the country, indeed the world, who reveres only two Australian bands that are in most ways utterly disparate. And now, just a few minutes ago, I went into Steve Kilbey's blog to discover in the 'comments' section of his most recent update that one punter called out for 'Khe Sahn' during the gig, so that explains that!
I loved the choice of songs the band performed. They played songs from as way back as The Blurred Crusade album of 1982; 'You Took' & 'An Interlude' sounding as originally fresh and vital today as they would have 27 years ago. These songs featured long extemporizations within the middle sections that display just how good the band are at building up a song to awesome heights. It is rock in its most elemental, yet three-dimensional form. That is why the Church are so special; they are a band who mix molten core and ancient, elemental rock with the uber-dimensionality of outer space and the immortal myths of other universes and planes of awareness, almost naturally and effortlessly - there are none other quite like them.
Other crowd favourites included songs from 1988's Starfish, 'North south east west', 'Reptile' & 'Hotel womb', the latter as a final encore. Especially close to most people's hearts were the songs performed from 1986's Heyday, an album many consider to be the Church's finest. The band commenced with 'Tantalised' and continued on with 'Myrrh' for the band's first encore. Aside from these well-known tracks, it was great to hear a song from their 1984 EP Remote Luxury, 'A month of Sundays'.
On the whole it was a great Church gig. The band bring with them almost 30 years of playing together and with that, a vast, accomplished back catalogue and a rich musical heritage spanning from 1980 all the way the present time. Their creativity at this point appears undimmed so that there are likely to be more albums and gigs in future. The Church have always offered something extraordinary, for no other band appear to delve deeper into the possibilities of rock as these men do, in all of its sonic wonder and possibilities. They are a magic combination of players and always have been. Long live the Church!