In the 1980s, perhaps as a reaction to the punk scene before it, a new music scene began to grow. Combining the jangling guitars of the sixties with elements of the burgeoning goth movement and the sensibilities of the pop music of the time. The undisputed leader of this new type of psychedelic dream pop was Australia’s The Church. Vocalist, bassist, and songwriter Steve Kilbey has guided the evolution of the band since their inception and, once again, leads them through a powerful live set based around their current, conceptual record called The Hypnogogue.
On the surface, The Church may come off as an overly serious, at times dour, band, however, the often dry, witty humor of Kilbey cuts through that when he addresses the crowd to lighten the evening. As the band takes the stage to The Hypnogogue’s opening track “Ascendence” a few things are immediately apparent, this isn’t the band you remember from the late 80s, Kilbey is the only member left from that classic lineup, but it is also clear that this current lineup can more than hold its own live. You also realize very early that, in addition to great music, this will also be a visual experience with each song bathed in dramatic lighting.
As the band went into each track off The Hypnogogue (seven songs from that record were played) Kilbey would unveil more of the story behind the record. This served as a running narrative for the night and brought cohesion to the 2 1/2-hour set. Kilbey was in good spirits throughout the night, frequently addressing the crowd, including a long story leading into the classic “Is This Where You Live” off of the band’s 1981 debut record.
All of the hits were present from the heady days of Heyday, Starfish, Gold Afternoon Fix and Priest = Aura, as well as songs from their later records. There were quite a few high points of the night, including the title track from the new record, a powerful song that ranks among the best in the band’s catalog. There was also a brief acoustic interlude showing off the triple guitars of Ian Haug, Ashley Naylor, and Jeffrey Cain. When introducing the band lineup, Kilbey did note that long-serving drummer Tim Powles could not make the tour due to visa issues so he was replaced by Nicholas Meredith.
About 2 hours into the show, Kilbey noted that it was time for “that song, the white whale of the evening”, referring to the band’s biggest hit ‘Under the Milky Way”. While the crowd loved every note and most of the filled house had their phones up, it was what came after that was the true highlight of the show. The ending run of the epic “Grind” into the frenetic “Tantalized”, and the main set closing (also the dramatic end of The Hypnogogue) “Second Bridge” truly lifted the night and infused an energy that let the band show their rock roots.
It should be noted that the visual aspect of the show was the perfect compliment to the music. The visuals were comprised of traditional stage lights, not video, lasers or LED. For me, The Church was always one of those unique bands where the somewhat psychedelic, dreamy aspect of the music lends itself to color. The paisley style of the era embeds itself into the songs and the band created a stunning visual light show that enhaced the audio.
While this may not be the version of The Church you remember, and the new guitaritsts do bring their own styles rather that slavishly recreating the classic songs, if you were a fan of the band then, give the new record a listen and check out the show, you will become a fan all over again.