Thursday, July 2, 2009

It's Sunday, This Must Be The Church

Well, after catching my breath from Friday night's show, we turned back up at the State Theater Sunday evening for a raging display of guitar from criminally under-appreciated Australian progressive rock vets, The Church. I had eagerly anticipated this show since the last time I saw them at the Birchmere, and they filled the State Theater to near capacity, an odd mix of youngsters and oldsters, each very intent on hearing their latest work as well as a few old gems. We would not be disappointed, for the modest price of admission, we were ushered into sonic heaven.

At least, I hope that heaven sounds this good! Celebrating their thirtieth anniversary, and the recent release of another typically elegant new collection, lead singer/bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarists Marty Willson- Piper and Peter Koppes, and drummer Tim Powles (still the new kid on the block with fifteen years as half of the band's solid bottom end), they served up haunting melodies with amazing fluidity for a two hour set that spanned their remarkable songbook.

From "A Month of Sundays," off of their 1984 Release, Remote Luxury, to several brand new compositions from their latest recording, the music was pure, vintage Church. "After Everything," the title cut from the 2002 album, was a highlight, as was "You Took," off The Blurred Crusade. The band wove one trippy, hypnotic groove into the next, featuring early compositions beside fresh tunes from the new record. Untitled # 23 was well represented with lavish readings of "Operetta," "Pangaea," "Space Saviour," "Happenstance," and "Dead Man's Hand," all precisely orchestrated, powerful, and full of emotion. The band closed its regular set on a climactic high note, with "Under The Milky Way" followed by "Reptile" from their 1986 masterpiece, Starfish. And they pulled out another old chestnut with "Hotel Womb," serving as the final song of their encore. Sheer sonic bliss!

Don't even ask, just go get a copy. NOW!

These four guys kick out an amazing amount of sound: in one minute, subtle and delicate, the next a well-orchestrated cacophony, drenched in feedback but not a discordant note or a stray sound. One of my favorite moments had to be when Marty broke a string, and while he was replacing it, the rest of the guys broke into an impromptu rendition of "Girl From Ipanema," complete with Steve doing an appropriately- breathy vocal. To quote Getz and Gilberto, we all said "aaaahhhhhhhh."

Say "Ahhhh."

A typically excellent performance, once again underscoring their staying power: fans of the band will tell you that they only get better as time passes. Like few of their predecessors or contemporaries, this band had commercial success early in the 80's ("Under The Milky Way" and "Metropolis" were ubiquitous hits in heavy rotation) and then went on to perform critically acclaimed material. Kilbey, Koppes and Willson-Piper each pursued solo careers and side projects, still continuing to perform together, and demonstrating the mature musicianship and songwriting that has earned them an intensely devoted following.

But the really good news is, the band was recording that night, so those who missed it may even wind up hearing this someday! They have never put out an official live release (apart from the Jammed CDs, culled from some of the band's improvisations and practices), and it's LONG overdue. This is another prolific band that has remained under the radar too long; maybe thirty years into their career, they'll finally achieve the breakout success they deserve. The latest record (I can call it a record because actually picked up a vinyl version of the release) is only another compelling argument from a prolific and distinguished band for more people to rediscover their music and get back to the Church.

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