THE CHURCH LIVE AT LIZOTTES: Tuesday, December 5, 2017
To use a ‘Kilbeyism’, there are two things that are ‘something quite peculiar’ about The Church.
The first is the similarity of their name to people’s experience of them.
Most people enter The Church by their most accessible songs, the hits like ‘Unguarded Moment’ and ‘Under The Milky Way’. But, once inside and seated in the pew, the musical sermon is delivered and only then is the real and mighty power of this band revealed, tempting you in, absorbing you and taking you to highs you’ve always heard about and hoped for. The Church take you on a journey between a psychedelic dreamscape and a sheer love for rock music that has the power to transform.
Lead singer/bass player Steve Kilbey makes no secret of his own journey with drugs and the place they take him so he can create his music. While many will judge him harshly for it, the end result can be biblical.
And so it was that on a Tuesday night in Newcastle, The Church walk on stage at Lizottes and put on a two hour show that traverses 36 years of their music and conjures up a sense of majesty and grandeur that only this band can materialise.
Currently on a national tour to promote their new album Man Woman Life Death Infinity, The Church open the show with a well planned collection of songs that take us back to the past before introducing us to the present and the new album.
The show opens with ‘Aura’, the first track on their 1992 album Persia. Right from the outset, it is clear that Ian Haug, the guitarist from Powderfinger who replaced long-time band favourite Marty Willson-Piper, adds a mesmerising new dimension. He is simply spell-binding with his deft chord play and compelling leads. Some Church devotees will have had doubts that Haug could fill Willson-Piper’s shoes. After all, Willson-Piper and fellow guitarist Peter Koppes were like the yin and yang that gave The Church its unique sound. Tonight, though, Koppes unites with Haug and the doubters are delivered from their uncertainty.
The band then launch into ‘Myrrh’ from 1985’s Heyday, slowly taking us, as one, back in time before jumping forward to 2015, with ‘Toyhead’ from the lauded Further Deeper album, the band’s first with Haug. Then back again as they perform the wonderful ‘Metropolis’ from 1990’s Gold Afternoon Fix, a song based on an earworm riff and a series of lyric lines that rhyme with ‘metropolis’ – you both laugh and shake your head at the skill involved here – it is all genius.
Then, ‘Another Century’, the first track from the new album. You get the feeling that, while these guys started out back in the 1980’s, it ain’t over for them yet. They’re still evolving and, what’s more, they’re taking it to another level with the new album – the pinnacle of which occurs later . . .
At this time in the show, there’s a buzz. People are starting to feel the rapture. The Church are revealing that they’re the real thing. Not just a Countdown pop combo but a band of amazing musicians that have produced an incredible body of work and continue to do so. A statement. A legacy.
A euphoria-inducing ‘Delirious’ from Further Deeper comes next, followed by ‘Fly’ from 1983’s Séance album, then the powerful ‘North South East West’ from the band’s most successful ‘88 Starfish album and ‘Day 5’ from the underrated Uninvited, Like The Clouds set from 2006. The atmosphere is building like storm clouds ready to break.
At this point, guitarist Koppes is pensive, sublimely accurate and understated in his brilliance. Drummer Tim Powles is firing, a stick in one hand and a tambourine in the other, smashing cymbals with it. Jeffrey Cain, guesting from the US on guitar and keys gives the whole show an energy – like the music is inside him. Haug continues to dazzle and Kilbey, fuelled by the energy from the audience, takes us higher – as only he can.
‘Constant In Opal’ from ‘84’s exquisite Persia EP leads the way before two songs from the new album reinforce The Church’s continuing momentum as a band. ‘Undersea’, the lead single and the delightful ‘Don’t Know How, Don’t Know Why’, with its immediately accessible chorus, lift us to a new sensory plane – Powles’ tambourine, Cain’s driving acoustic guitar, Haug and Koppes’ interweaving guitar lines gel together like fluid and Kilbey is energised and potent in the sheer mastery of this new music. The song highlights Kilbey the songwriter’s almost transcendental grasp of the delicate balance between the commercial and the credible. It is the showcase track of the night from the recently released Man Woman Life Death Infinity.
It is then that the real ride begins.
From a single note, the band constructs one of the most amazing musical moments of this writer’s life. The song is ‘Tantalized’, the 2nd track they perform from ‘85’s Heyday album. The song itself has some fine rock and roll moments built into its melody and the band diffuse together as a single force to create a musical cyclone of epic proportions. The guitar interplay builds ever intense whirling waves of psychedelic sound that pick you up and transport you around the room. The beat, the notes, the rising thunder is palpable as the music lifts you to a seeming peak . . . and then Kilbey crashes in with the vocal line like angst personified, elevating you to another place you didn’t know existed. It’s not sexual but this is a musical climax, one of those unforgettable concert moments you recount for years to come.
When ‘Tantalized’ finishes, you wonders where the show can go from here.
The answer comes. The opening chords of the classic ‘Under The Milky Way’ are greeted with immediate applause, the audience acknowledgement of true greatness. This song is now etched into the nation’s cultural identity – an honour bestowed upon few.
Then, to finish the show proper, they dive into a raucous version of ‘Reptile’, also from the Starfish album, just to prove a point; The Church, as a band that has not only survived but succeeded for nearly four decades, are much more than their biggest hit.
After much screaming for more, Cain leads the band on for an encore. The first of two.
Kilbey comes to the mic and informs us all that the song they’re about to play is an ex Christmas carol and that he wrote it in Vienna in 1492, the year Columbus landed in the Americas. To Kilbey it is ancient history but, for us, it is the start of it all. Haug begins the familiar riff and ‘Unguarded Moment’, the hit from the band’s 1981 debut album Of Skins And Heart, the one that started it all, rings out from the speakers and the audience goes nuts.
From Haug’s perfectly timed downstrokes on his stunning Rickenbacker guitar in the middle eight to Kilbey’s semi-spoken lyric delivery, it’s all here:
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The first encore finishes with a solid rendition of ‘Block’, again from 2006’s Uninvited, LikeThe Clouds. More stomping and yelling for more and a second deserved encore ensues. Such is the band’s confidence in their new album that the finale is two more of its songs: ‘Dark Waltz’ and ‘Miami’.
And then they are gone.
Apart from the incendiary rendition of ‘Tantalised’, the popularly received ‘Milky Way’ and ‘Unguarded Moment’ and the overall cataclysmic performance, it was kinda cool that the band featured roadie Ross Malloy on bass for a couple of songs, giving Kilbey the freedom to strut his stuff and prowl the stage with dramatic movements unburdened by his instrument.
It was also kinda cool to see members of legendary local band The Longknives in the audience. Ron Jackman and Dave Robson pioneered the psychedelic rock sound here while The Church were breaking nationally. Like The Church, their jangly guitar sounds were captivating. And, like The Church, they were one of my favourite bands from the 80’s. And they would have known exactly what model Haug’s Rickenbacker guitar was. Tonight would have been as special to them as it was to me.
Or to all those who were there, witnesses to a band whose music survives an epoch.
Oh, and the 2nd ‘peculiar thing’ – they didn’t play anything from their 1982 classic album Blurred Crusade. I first saw The Church at Doyalson RSL with a spectacular light show back in the 80’s, just after Blurred Crusade had been released and it was mind-blowing. ‘Almost With You’, the epic ‘When You Were Mine’, ‘To Be In Your Eyes’ or the hypnotic bass line that unfurls into ‘You Took’ – surely one of these could have made the set tonight. I have to be honest to say that the absence of anything from this sublime album was a little disappointing. Even so, the show was as full of mystery and magic as the universe.
And, comprehensive or not, a believer or not, seeing The Church live is truly a religious experience.