17 April 2011

Concert review : Faster Louder


“With recent tours featuring acoustic shows, retrospectives and entire sets spent performing three (yes, three) albums in full each night, it’s not so surprising to see the church celebrate their three-decade mark with a conceptual show. And while rock bands collaborating with orchestras are neither new nor always a success, it was a bold enough move for their anniversary show to cause plenty of anticipation and excitement.

After an unexpected and sorta intentionally, sorta unintentionally funny opening from anchorman/journalist George Negus, the band emerge in front of the 67-strong George Ellis Orchestra. Somewhat curiously for such a significant show, they kick off with a couple of lesser-known numbers ( Sealine and Lost ) before a swirling, orchestra-heavy rendition of early hit The Unguarded Moment – a song that the band almost always transform, tonight being no exception.

Curiously for an anniversary show, there was plenty of lesser-known material amongst the hits – recent songs Pangaea and Operetta were well-aided by their orchestral backing, while one of the evening’s highlights came from an unlikely cover of The Dave Miller Set’s early Australian psych classic Mr Guy Fawkes. That song in particular was an incredible moment, with a spirited performance from the band perfectly augmented by Ellis’ orchestra.

That was one of the moments where it fell into place perfectly, amongst a generally great performance. It didn’t always completely click, and the group were certainly playing it safe with over seventy musicians having to keep up with them (the group was also augmented by backing singers and additional musicians), something that took away from the visceral power of their usual live show. But what it lacked in raw power it made up for in beauty, and seeing songs like Under The Milky WayReptile and Tantalized with Ellis’ tasteful arrangements was a great experience. And in that sense it was certainly success, a bold move that paid off as another great, unique moment in a tremendous thirty-year career. ” – by esquared


13 April 2011

Tone Deaf reviews ‘A Psychedelic Symphony’ Concert, Sydney Opera House


“As popular as they may be at the moment and so dear to the hearts of music fans in Australia, it was none the less an audacious move for The Church to celebrate their 30th anniversary as a band with a one off performance with a symphony orchestra at the country’s best known music venue, entitled unsurprisingly, A Psychedelic Symphony. Taking the safe path has never been the band’s shtick, however, so it was little surprise that the 2,000+ capacity gig sold out quickly, with fans flying in from far flung parts of the world to make it. But could they pull it off? It’s one thing to go from subtle reworkings of your songs to the potential bombast of a 67 piece orchestra backing you up. However, despite the sense of risk inevitable with any ambitious and left of centre rock band performance, front man Steve Kilbey, guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper and drummer Tim Powles – joined by a stellar cast of accompanists in addition to the orchestra – pulled it off with aplomb.

As the cameras begin rolling for the live DVD and TV special the evening’s performance will become; appropriately, the band are introduced by TV news identity George Negus, who fulfilled a similar role in inducting the church in to the ARIA Hall of Fame last year. The band takes the stage as the orchestra’s overture of ‘Metropolis’ reaches a crescendo. ‘Lost’ off Starfish is purely guitar driven and the orchestra seems like a third wheel, before a few tears are shed in the audience during ‘Almost With You’ and the orchestra suddenly fits cohesively in the mix, a subtle and uplifting embellishment but never overbearing. The performance treats fans to a number of lesser played numbers, with ‘Anchorage’ an early highlight. ‘The Unguarded Moment’ takes after the live version performed on recent tours and is given the adagio treatment, the delicacy of the orchestral backing taking it in to the realm of a film score.

Led by conductor and arranger George Ellis, the orchestra remains entwined with the band on ‘Myrrh’, giving the space rock guitars on the Heyday version a heightened sense of ethereality, while ‘Grind’ is elegiac, the orchestra making their way off stage during the song and as the orchestral backing dissolves, the band explode in to a full rock tilt for the remainder of it.

An interval proves that no matter the elegant and iconic surroundings, there’s always a scramble for the bar, but as the audience re-enters for the second act they are greeted by an orchestra devoid of the previous all black ensembles – rather they are resplendent in outfits ranging from gypsy to pirate to circus clown – a psychedelic symphony indeed. As the backing projections begin, the band can be seen watching them from the wings like inquisitive schoolboys as the overture of ‘Happy Hunting Ground’ reaches its apex. A cover of The Dave Miller Set’s 1960s psychedelic classic ‘Mr. Guy Fawkes’ is welcome, if not unexpected; Kilbey having name checked them at the ARIA Hall of Fame Ceremony. ‘Ripple’s continues the psychedelic swirl engulfing the auditorium and the brass section adds to a particularly effervescent crescendo.

‘Reptile’ is a given a killer rendition, the lick almost written in anticipation of melding it with an orchestra one day. A live revelation is Willson-Piper and Kilbey trading vocals on ‘Two Places At Once’, with Willson-Piper on 12 string and Koppes on keys, again the subtlety of the orchestral arrangements coming to the fore. ‘Spark’ with Willson-Piper on vocals trades reverb and delay for the 67 piece guitar pedal tonight known as the orchestra providing effects, while Kilbey hams it up for the cameras filming for a mournful ‘On Angel Street’. ‘Under The Milky Way; is introduced as ‘the most popular Australian song of the last three million years’, whileUntitled #23’s ‘Space Saviour’ brings the set to a close and The Church are effortlessly given the venue’s highest accolade whether it be for classical or rock music – a standing ovation.

An encore of ‘Already Yesterday’ is followed by ‘Invisible’, which briefly segues in to the Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’, while in the final encore promoter Joe Segretto is thanked by Powles, and Kilbey’s tongue is firmly planted in cheek when he thanks ‘God for giving us so much fucking talent’. It’d be ‘un-Australian’ to allow that comment to pass, but many in the audience would have a sneaking suspicion that they agree with the sentiments entirely.  If final proof of the band’s worth is necessary, an epic finale of ‘Tantalized’ has the crowd in awe, and as the band receive their third standing ovation of the evening, it’s clear that 30 years on they’re still at the peak of their abilities and with whispers of taking the show overseas to various major cities, the world stage still awaits them.”

Jim Murray
Photo by Sue Campbell


7 March 2011

Concert Review: The Variety Playhouse, Atlanta GA – 22/2/2011


By Ange Alex – Feb 24, 2011 – THE BACKSTAGE BEAT (with photos)

When “the church” planned their US tour, they did it with amazing verve. It was an impressive feat to say the least as they were set to play three albums in their entirety in one night! The ‘Future Past Perfect’ tour was almost unbelievable as they would be covering each decades of the band’s career. Most groups, even young ones would never try to take on performing 34 songs in one night. Three amazing hours of music played to a packed house in the heart of trendy Little Five Points. the church pleased their fans in a way that only these Australian boys could do.

Steve Kilbey started the night off by welcoming his fans and opening up the first album of the evening “Untitled #23?. This album was by far their most progressive. All ten of the albums songs were performed during the first act. With the crowd at their mercy for more, the church paused for a quick ten minute break.

Coming back to the stage, it was time to take a trip back to that wonderful year, 1992. “Priest=Aura” was their seventh release and featured fourteen songs for your listening pleasure. However Tuesday night, it was only for the fortunate ones at The Variety Playhouse.

Finally, they made it to the breakthrough album from 1988 “Starfish”. This album was one of their most successful as it featured the popular song “Under the Milky Way” which is still heard on Atlanta radio to date. You could hear the crowd sing along as the chorus came in. I couldn’t help but sing along myself. When the full ten songs on the album were performed, everyone could feel that they had witnessed a great night in music and music history.

All in all, “the church” remains a solid, tight-knit band that will hopefully make their way back to the states and to the great city of Atlanta.

3 March 2011

Concert Reviews : Park West, Chicago

Fans worship Church through three-album show – 11th Feb 2011

Four months ago, veteran psychedelic pop-rockers the Church were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association’s Hall of Fame. Beloved by fans as the band’s brooding beat poet, frontman Steve Kilbey seemed unusually gleeful at the time. Following a stream of wisecracks and unrehearsed anecdotes which left the crowd in stitches, guitarist Marty Willson-Piper deadpanned, “We’ve worked so hard to be aloof and enigmatic — all ruined in 15 minutes, after 30 years.” “Aloof no more,” interjected Kilbey, making an oath repeated endlessly on YouTube.

At Park West on Friday night, however, the Church were back in character and rebuilding their aura of mystery. The band thrilled ardent followers by weaving musical spells full of grand gestures, menacing atmosphere and stratospheric radiance. Though Kilbey was quick to thank his enthusiastic audience, nary a yarn was spun outside of the cinematic lyrics to tone poems like “Anchorage” and “Swan Lake.”

That suited the packed house just fine. People came to hear Church music, and they got plenty. Though the band has earned respect for keeping nostalgia at arm’s length, their “Future Past Perfect” tour used it to advantage. In order to expose the maximum number of listeners to a complete performance of 2009’s critically lauded “Untitled No. 23,” the group also enticed fair-weather fans with a full-album presentation of their 1988 commercial breakthrough “Starfish,” featuring radio hits “Under the Milky Way” and “Reptile.”

But the band’s true love gift to acolytes was the inclusion of 1992’s “Priest=Aura.” The album presented the Church at its most inscrutable and aloof, and was never toured in America. Find a clutch of devotees who have worshipped the Church steadfastly since “Under the Milky Way” first shimmered across the airwaves, and “Priest” will likely sit atop their collective list of favorites.

The band’s point, naturally, was that its newest material stacks up favorably to these classics. It was hard to argue. Guitarist Peter Koppes’ elegant figures intertwined with Willson-Piper’s deep twang during “Deadman’s Hand,” as foreboding a portrait of oppression as any found on “Priest=Aura.” The rarely played “On Angel Street” found the group stretching into new avenues of sound. Undulating like a half-remembered dream of Pink Floyd’s “Welcome to the Machine,” the song’s synthesizer pulse suggested the unsettling intrusion of a distant car alarm. Kilbey’s audio-film noir played about the emotionally raw edges of an unraveled relationship. “You should change the message on your machine,” he intoned. “Makes me cry when you say we’re not at home.”

The band’s resident producer and drummer Tim Powles anchored the show superbly – notably so, since two thirds of the material predated his tenure with the band. “Priest=Aura” was the band’s final album before Powles’ involvement, and he tackled songs including the shadowy “Ripple” and lushly chiming “Feel” as if they were part of his DNA. The taut “Lustre” was a showcase for Powles’ powerful and creative percussion, and the black humor of “Witch Hunt” was underscored by his cabaret flourishes.

After a brief intermission and change of clothes, the band returned with “Starfish.” Though anchored by its two hit singles, the complete package exposed the depth and quality of an enduring pop collection. The spooky “Blood Money” began with the interdependent guitar arrangements that have rendered Koppes and Willson-Piper equally indispensible to the Church sound. During deep cuts like “Hotel Womb” and Koppes’ own “A New Season,” Koppes often performed beautifully arpeggiated melodies with great finessse, while Willson-Piper’s right hand became an unfettered blur. The hard-charging gallop of Willson-Piper’s “Spark” was reminiscent of anthemic 80’s rockers The Alarm.

The night’s warmest response was reserved, of course, for the jangly “Under the Milky Way,” which Willson-Piper performed on a battered acoustic guitar that looked like it might have traveled every mile with the song over its 23 year lifetime. But the rarities made the night special, despite Kilbey’s admission of having flubbed “Starfish” chestnut “Antenna.” “We’ll make it up with this one,” promised Willson-Piper, grinning as he launched another song.

Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.


“I’ve seen Pink Floyd, I’ve seen the Stones, the Who, The Cure, REM,
Midnight Oil, the Waterboys – this is the best concert I’ve ever seen
in my life. And where are these bands now? who is standing on top of
the scrap heap mountain of smashed guitars with a sold out show packed
to the gills in Chicago? I saw beautiful maidens. Raven haired girls
who reminded me of her. These are the great minstrels from royal
courts, these are the troubadours of emperors, queens, and heros.
An intoxicating pleasure of music and memories, of possibility, and
dreams. I admire the Church for their high bar of quality and
integrity. from a distance I saw them as graying haired men, yet with
the faces of 20 year olds. some sort of resurrection had taken place.
Some fountain of youth that great passion, intensity and soul music
creates. it was all unrivaled. Ah, the variety of sound, from cosmic
space jazz of the future to a punk rock band in the 70s. the heartfelt
cathartic belting joy of ‘anchorage” that had tears streaming down my
face. The whole entourage playing for keeps. I stood up, cheered, and
saluted you. and so from the deep deep bottom of my heart, I say,
thank you, thank you, good sirs.”
– Abid

3 March 2011

Concert Review + live photos : BB Kings New York City


Click link above to view their photos

This past Thursday, the church brought their “Future Past Perfect” tour to a full house at B.B. King’s in Times Square. The concept of the evening was that the band would play the following albums in their entirety: Untitled #23 (2009), Priest=Aura (1992), and Starfish (1988). Over the last few years, some indie and alt-rock bands have played one of their classic albums from start to finish, this is the first time that I’ve heard of any band taking this concept to such a grand scale.

The concert was nothing short of impressive. As the band took the stage, Steve Kilbey came to the mic and said “We are called The [pause] Crouch and we are going to give you Untitled #23”. There was a minimal amount of stage banter after this as the music and the art (projected on the screens) did all of the talking needed. This first set was stellar so it is hard to pick out a individual song or two but “Anchorage” was particularly stunning as the band added a backing vocalist (Tour Manager Tiare Helberg) and an additional guitarist to create a haunting and memorable soundscape.

After a twenty minute intermission, the band returned for Priest = Aura and gave a shout-out to Jay Dee Daugherty who was in the audience (Jay Dee played drums on Priest = Aura and toured with the church for a few years). While I don’t think I gave this album the time of day when it originally came out, the band’s live performance made me realize that I have been missing something. Particularly stellar was “The Disillusionist” where Steve Kilbey became more animated than I’ve seen once he put his guitar down. The other track of note was “Film” where this melancholy instrumental seemed to perfectly ramp-down the second set.

As the band went off for the second intermission, I could hear Marty saying something about needing to rest his hands and that made me really pay attention to the amount of energy and precision that went into this 3+ hour show. On the audience side, not everyone was able to appropriately pace themselves. One “nice” young man staggered right into me after the second set and I watched as his date was trying to help him get his arms into his jacket sleeves as he was having no luck on his own.

For the last set, the band played Starfish from start to finish and the album has aged well. While I’ve heard “Under The Milky Way” way to many times, the overall album doesn’t have that “big” (aka dated) 80’s sound that many bands were utilizing at that time. Songs like “Destination” and “Hotel Womb” sound just as vital today as they did when originally released.

Someone sitting on the floor obviously brought a pocket camera into the show and filmed the last song of the night – “Hotel Womb”. My post-show thoughts are that an official live album/DVD from this tour is really needed as this was a show not to be missed. – From Brooklyn Rocks

2 March 2011

Concert Review: The Highline Ballroom & B.B. Kings, New York City


“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-instrumentalists; 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.” – by Anton Tibbe

2 March 2011

Concert Review: The Triple Door, Seattle – 7th Feb 2011


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.”

2 March 2011

Concert Review: Showcase Live Foxboro MA


the church Fills The Pews at Foxboro Theatre – 18th Feb 2011

“The concept for this limited winter tour–just 11 dates across the US–is that the band performs three of its most notable albums in their entirety.  They start off with last year’s “Untitled #23,” album, and then dip backwards to 1992’s “Priest=Aura” album, and finally finish up with their biggest selling album, 1988’s “Starfish.”

Nobody’s going to ever fault the Australian rock band the church in terms of “bang for your musical buck,” after their ‘Future Past Perfect’ tour, part of their 30th Anniversary Celebration, touched down at Showcase Live in Foxboro Friday night with a three-hour marathon of their best work.

Each album is performed start-to-finish, and Friday night each one took roughly an hour, with a 20 minute break between sets.  The end result is 34 songs, and better than three hours of music, spread over a four-hour span that might test fans’ endurance if the quartet’s soaring guitar pop wasn’t so enticingly melodic. And with Friday’s tickets priced at $33.50, it ranks as one of the season’s best bargains.
You might wonder how much of a draw this would be, given that the band’s biggest hit song “Under the Milky Way,” came from that ’88 album, and the intervening years have seen core members Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper release numerous solo works, while the band has languished, broken up and reformed.  But Showcase Live was packed with about 500 fans, most of them in the thirty-and-forty-something range, and nearly all of them engaged and intent upon the music all the way through.
In general, the church‘s music has such a finely woven tapestry of guitar (and occasional keyboards) lines that it might remind some fans of U2’s sweeping musical vistas.  But the emphasis on the lyrics from Kilbey and Willson-Piper, usually poetic, often bemusing, and just as often bewildering, cast the group more in a folk-rock tradition, perhaps like The Waterboys.
At other times, the arrangements are so intricate and cover so much dynamic territory,the church could hold its own with any of the so-called progressive rock outfits.  In short, it’s heady, challenging music and if at times the church approach can be a bit too impressionistic, their unrelenting knack for appealing melodies is almost always the redeeming feature.  In that respect, Friday’s show left little doubt that “Starfish” is still their best album, perhaps because it is the most dynamic.  As intriguing as the newer music may be, sometimes it just creates a mood and doesn’t move enough.
“Untitled #23” is the band’s 20th full-length album, although the title refers to the sum total of all their Australian releases, including EPs. It emphasizes their layered, dreamy guitar sound along with Kilbey’s typically entrancing yet perplexing lyrics.  Those midtempo guitar textures were delectable on “Pangaea,” while “Happenstance” took the whole aura to dreamy pop, with Kilbey on 12-string guitar and Willson-Piper playing some evocative slide.  Perhaps the best song from that album’s set was the pounding primal rocker, “Space Saviour,” with both Kilbey and Willson-Piper sharing vocals.
A throbbing organ figure from tour keyboardist Craig Wilson helped give “On Angel Street” an especially spooky mood, and Willson-Piper’s bent-note guitar solo made “Sunken Sun” an otherworldly gem. “Anchorage” was the type of panoramic folk-rock epic that the latter-day Waterboys have specialized in, and its subtle heat was transporting.  The last two tunes from the album were kind of static mood pieces, but overall the church‘s live version of “Untitled #23” was more vibrant than the CD itself–simply because it rocked more throughout the 60 minutes.
“Priest=Aura,” from 1992, has 14 songs and many of them are lengthy, impressionistic, ethereal ruminations. Delving into their more mysterious, even psychedelic side, it was hailed by fans of the band even as it sold poorly amid the heyday of grunge.  Friday night’s rendition of the album took about 67 minutes, and the live versions seemed to kick the tempos a bit, which was a smart move. Willson-Piper’s keening guitar drove the slow-burning “Aura,” while Petetr Koppes and Willson-Piper crafted fiery guitar lines on “Ripple,” with Koppes’ phase-shifter solo a real delight.
“Paradox” glided along with exotic flavors, while “Lustre” displayed some of the band’s power-pop roots. The shimmering ballad “Swan Lake” had some terrific melodic flow, and the main criticism would be that it was too brief. “Mistress” was a superbly modulated potboiler of a song, as Kilbey sang of obsession and second thoughts.
No doubt, “The Disillusionment” was the centerpiece of the second set, an epic song where folk-rock becomes prog-rock, and Koppes’ guitar solos incorporated reverb and feedback to transporting effect. Even the hard-rocking, deliberately messy “Chaos” was fun, and the whole “Priest=Aura” segment ended with the delectably melodic instrumental “Film.”
If that second set didn’t exhaust the fans Friday night, the final set was superb, proving that “Starfish” is a fine piece of work.  The spacey rocker “Destination” opened the set, with Kilbey intoning a line that could be the band’s motif: “it’s not a religion, it’s just a technique..”  To no one’s surprise the live performance of “Under the Mikly Way” was a highlight, with Willson-Piper on acoustic 12-string, and Koppes using wah-wah and a synthesizer to enhance his guitar solo.
But if you left after that, you missed still more Church gems, like the sweeping dynamics of the rocker “Blood Money,” or a driving rendition of “North South East West” that had some of the best interwoven guitar lines we’ve ever heard.  There was the punky energy of “Spark,”  and the playfully hypnotic “Reptile.”   In between those two, “Antenna” was built expertly from an acoustic ballad to a full-bore rocker, reminiscent of the kind of dynamic development Jethro Tull excelled at.  A rowdy, rocking look at life on the road, “Hotel Womb” closed the night on yet another high note.
The “Future Past Perfect” tour ends in April in the band’s hometown of Sydney, and there was but one more date slated in the United States after Friday. Meanwhile, Second Motion Records re-released all of the church‘s back catalog of album in October, so old and new fans can catch up on the band’s three decades of rock.” – Jay N Miller
2 March 2011

Concert Review: The Triple Door, Seattle



“It has become fashionable in recent years for bands to hit the road performing “classic” albums in their entirety. Whether it’s Concrete Blonde doing some Bloodletting, the Flaming Lips delivering The Soft Bulletin, Roger Waters re-erecting The Wall or Rush putting up Moving Pictures, artists of all calibers and stripes are joining in the stampede to exhume their past glories for fun and profit, not necessarily in that order. It makes sense on a number of levels. In our current stagnant economy, a run-of-the mill tour may not be viable. Cash-strapped fans are apt to take a pass, rationalizing that they’ll catch ‘em next time when there’s more money in the pocket. To combat this quite understandable frugality, a tour in 2011 must be an event, a “this one can’t be missed!” spectacle. Next, there’s the nostalgia factor. You may not have listened to the band for two decades, but the fact that they’re trotting out your favorite album might be incentive enough to find a babysitter and get out of the house for a rare night on the town. Lastly there’s curiosity: Do the old boys (or girls) still have it? Can they recapture that elusive spark that made you take notice in the first place?

Australian rock band the church is the latest to climb aboard the bandwagon, but typical of these left-of-center underdogs, there is an intriguing twist: they have opted to perform not one, but three albums in their entirety, one for each decade of the band’s existence. Each performance begins with 2009’s Untitled #23 and progresses backward through 1992’s Priest=Aura to conclude with 1988’s Starfish, the album that gave the band a brief taste of international success via the hit single “Under the Milky Way.” (Tour dates can be found here.)

Three full albums in one night. We’re talking a Springsteen-length concert here. To my knowledge the only other band to have attempted something like this was the Cure, who did a series of Trilogy concerts comprising the albums Pornography,Disintegration, and Bloodflowers back in 2002. The key difference is that the Cure is a spectacularly dull live band. The Church, on the other hand, is known for expanding and improving upon its album work, often using the songs as launchpads for inspired flights of improvisation.

The actual three selections for this tour are interesting and quite shrewd. Anyone who was listening to “modern rock” in the late eighties remembers Starfish, so the inclusion of that record was a must. Yet there is nearly unanimous critical (if not commercial) consensus that the band is actually doing its best work right now, as borne out by the many 5-star reviews Untitled #23 received both at home and abroad. It stands to reason that the lapsed fans – the Starfish aficionados making their way back into the fold to rekindle their cherished memories for one night – might enjoy (and perhaps even want to purchase) the new material. Then there is the curious case of Priest=Aura, a space-rock epic that was ignored and/or drubbed at the time of its release but has since grown in stature, possibly due to subsequent albums by other artists (Radiohead’s OK Computer being the primary example) that seemed to tap into its vibe. To include Priest as the middle section – the very core – of the show is a daring move, one that turns what might be a satisfying but unambitious exercise into something really substantial. Nothing less, in fact, than a comprehensive dissertation on the church itself, for it’s impossible to walk away from the concert with anything other than a full picture of what the church is, was, and will be. At that point you can accept or reject based on comprehensive knowledge.

I was in attendance at the February 7 show at the Triple Door in Seattle, during which the band faced the added hurdle of having to perform to a dinner theater with waiters circling the seated audience like flies, cock-blocking the music. Or that was the danger, anyway. the church dispatched this threat by simply ignoring it and focusing all available energy on blowing the roof off the place. And in that endeavor, Priest=Aura proved to be the secret ingredient: a magnificent, dark, intoxicating trip with plenty of surprising twists and turns and lots of danger. Some of the more subtle songs such as “Swan Lake” and “Witch Hunt” had surprising heft and power in the live context, while “Chaos” gave The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray” a run for its money in terms of sustained atonal freakout. The other two sets were not quite at this level, but both still had enough moments of transcendence to validate the trilogy concept. Think about it: the battle scene at the center of Lawrence of Arabia would not be nearly so effective without the slow, careful buildup, or the equally crucial denouement.

Of the “men behind the curtain,” Marty Willson-Piper owned the performance. Apart from some equipment challenges during the first set, he was on point from start to finish: stabbing out his guitar lines and driving the rest of the band with constant eye contact and cues. He wore a happy grin that said: I love my job and I’m thrilled to be here. His “Spark” (from Starfish) was one of the highlights of the evening. Drummer Tim Powles, also, never flagged. He absolutely demolished his kit – not in the literal sense of kicking it down and throwing it into the crowd a la Keith Moon – but more in terms of a sustained, unrelenting siege. Think the bombing of Baghdad with eardrums the only casualties. Guitar magician Peter Koppes cycled through a bewildering array of both stringed and non-stringed instruments and delivered another high point with “A New Season.” And hired wunderkind Craig Wilson filled out the sound with additional keyboards, guitar, six-string bass, mandolin, percussion, and vocals. Wow. He looks all of fourteen. Hopefully we’ll hear more of him.

This brings me to the man on whom rested the heaviest burden, the man who had to memorize reams of his own stemwinding lyrics and regurgitate them on command: singer and bassist Steve Kilbey. What he brings to the table is a cracked piece of stained glass. Approach from one angle and you’ll see beauty, from ugliness. If you don’t look closely enough, you’ll miss it entirely, but if you focus too hard your eyes will bleed. If, however, you move the whole arrangement just so, Ahhh…you’ll catch a glimpse of that dreamworld he’s been sneaking off to for decades. And then you’ll be hooked. You’ll keep coming back no matter what.

I have written previously about Steve’s Jekyll and Hyde persona; how there is “New Steve,” the norm in recent years: warm, affable, generous and very funny; and “Old Steve”: dark, cynical, bitter – or as he describes it in his own words: “tired n emotional.”

At the Triple Door we got a little bit of Old Steve, which is to say, a little bit of an edge, a bit of the old caustic energy. But with a very important distinction: in the past, Old Steve gave the impression of being detached from the whole thing: a grumpy god annoyed by the inconvenience of having to descend from the clouds (or climb up from hell; you take your pick) and sing for his supper.  But this Steve, the Triple Door Steve, fully appreciated his audience. He didn’t say much else but he continuously thanked the crowd. Detachment had given way to an almost frightening engagement with the “angry” songs in the set. He snarled his way through “Anchorage,” “Mistress,” and “The Disillusionist” with something approaching Kurt Cobain ferocity. “Anchorage” set the tone:

Darkness returning
My torch keeps on burning for you
In the life you keep on spurning
Everything is hurting me

And “Mistress” seconded the motion:

Everything is going wrong
All my songs are coming true.

During songs in which he was less engaged he would literally and figuratively recede, giving up the reins to Marty. At some points he even put his hand to his head as if the whole thing were causing him pain. Yet never once during the show did he stop playing the shit out of his bass.

As for where the anger was coming from, I imagine Steve would say that that’s irrelevant; the music is supposed to be a Rorschach test into which we’re supposed to read our own rage. Sometimes the church’s music is water, sometimes it’s fire. Tonight it was fire. He wanted us to burn with him.

There. Have I convinced you yet? You have the opportunity to see one of the best rock bands out there sweat blood for you. This ain’t the Craptacular Black Eyed Peas at Superbowl halftime, this is the genuine article. This is loud rock n roll in a small, enclosed space where the stakes are very high. Get on a plane if you have to. Just get your ass in one of those seats. Now.”

Robert Dean Lurie is author of No Certainty Attached: Steve Kilbey and the Church, published in 2009 by Verse Chorus Press.


2 March 2011

Concert Review: The Trocadero, Philadelphia PA


Philly.Com – Arts & Entertainment

Aussie band gives its all

By Sam Adams


For casual listeners, the church began in 1988, with the release of their album, Starfish, and its inescapable single, “Under the Milky Way,” and ended soon after.

But the Australian quartet, composed of original members Steve Kilbey, Martin Willson-Piper, Peter Koppes and longtime drummer Tim Powles, are in it for the long haul, as Tuesday’s Trocadero show demonstrated in spades.

As if their 30 years as a band weren’t proof enough of their stamina, the church decided to mark the milestone by playing three of their albums live. That’s right: three of them. Let lesser bands pluck a single pearl from their back catalogue. the church will give you the whole thing.

Well, not all of it. The band’s most recent album, Untitled #23, is so named for its rank among their releases (including singles and EPs). But even so, playing that album along with Starfish and 1992’s Priest = Aura took up the better part of four hours, including two intermissions.

That’s more time that even a devoted fan might want to spend with a band they love, so perhaps it’s not too faint a tribute to say that at the end of the night, the audience ignored Kilbey’s heads-up that there would be no encore and clapped (unsuccessfully) for more.

Working in reverse chronological order turned out to be a wise move, and not just because it left the band’s most popular album for last. As they moved backwards in time, the songs grew more lighter and more concise, less brooding and more energetic. The longer, more tempestuous Priest made an ideal centerpiece, building up to the long-form sturm und drang of its penultimate track, “Chaos.”

Instrumentation shifted throughout the night, providing insight into each album’s distinctive sound.

For Untitled #23, Kilbey and Willson-Piper traded bass and guitar duties with almost every song, inviting their roadie and a supporting vocalist on stage to augment the urgent sway of “Anchorage.”

For Priest, Kilbey switched to a six-string that allowed him to play bass and low-register guitar chords at the same time.

For Starfish, Willson-Piper relied on a duct-taped acoustic 12-string to provide the lush atmosphere of “Under the Milky Way,” switching back to electric for the terse, echoing riff of “Reptile.”

Each album stood on its own, a miniature world that performers and audience could inhabit for a while before moving on to the next.”

Gig date: 15th Feb 2011