That’s right, the day just keeps on getting better! Tonight, at 10pm (Eastern daylight savings time, so 9pm here in Brisbane), Music Max TV will screen a one hour special of The Church’s spectacular gig at The Sydney Opera House: A Psychedelic Symphony. Here’s my review of the gig, which will go down as one of the best I ever see. This my friends, is must see!!! I do believe a DVD of the show will be hitting the shelves for christmas.
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Almost a week on from A Psychedelic Symphony and my brain is still firing…
From the moment George Ellis and his incredible 67 piece orchestra take the stage, the night is one of the most blissful of my life. They open with a superb arrangement of Metropolis, and as the band settle in, front of stage, the anticipation in the crowd is tangible. Kilbey whispers into the mic, there’ll never be another quite like you, the crowd burst their seams and the band surges straight into Sealine. Free of his bass, Steve has a new energy, attacking the vocal with fervour, It’s a miracle, let it alter you, and the packed house begins to give themselves over. Lost follows and the arrangement is soaring and lush and then it’s crowd favourite, Almost With You.
Three songs into the set and the bands musical prowess is shining through, the orchsetra, exploring spaces in the songs and swelling their already expansive sonic landscapes.
Anchorage and Pangaea from 2009’s, Untitled #23 are up next. Anchorage not only shows off Kilbey’s vocal depth, it also highlights his theatricality as a front man, and Pangaea has a new found sonic richness. Then we are taken back 30 years to where it all started… the slowed down, sensual throb of Unguarded Moment brings the crowd back to bursting. Kilbey’s voice is smooth and deep, Marty & Peter’s guitars interwine and Tim keeps the engine pulsing. The band then fire things up, unleashing a full-tilt version of Myrrh. The orchestra flexing their muscle as the guitars shift into overdrive…
Steve then hands lead vocal duties over to Peter and he delivers a superb version of Never Before, before moving to the keyboards as the band prepare to close the first set with the epic, Grind. For the first half of the song, the band adopt acoustic mode, allowing the strings to swirl and mesmerise, but as the orchestra leave the stage, Marty straps on the electric and we are left with just The Church on stage… it’s then, you remember why you are here. Marty’s solo is blistering, Kilbey is just about doing the splits, Peter’s keyboard is hauntingly beautiful, and Tim is giving his kit a delicious thrashing. The first half closes and the show has already exceeded expectation.
The second half of the show opens with the gorgeous, Happy Hunting Ground. It is a real treat to hear the orchestra make this soar. The band hit the stage again and tear through a cover of The Dave Millar Set’s classic, Mr Guy Fawkes. Then it’s the first of a string of highlights. Ripple is phenomenal tonight. Peter’s guitar work is sublime and the strings lift the chorus to dizzying heights. Reptile is up next and again it is Peter that steals the show. His guitar work toward the end of the song is nothing less than thrilling… Then we are treated to Two Places at Once, a song that has only sporadically made it into live setlists over the years. Steve and Marty trade verses, and the whole room seems to come to a stand still. It is one of the many ‘pin drop’ moments of the night. But nothing could have prepared the audience for what comes next… The Disillusionist.
Kilbey is absolutely possessed, channeling the lyric and moving like a dervish. The arrangement is epic, a wild mix of rock’n’roll, poetry and theatre. I was completely transfixed. Marty then takes lead vocal duty for Spark, which possesses a youthful energy, before the mood shifts with On Angel Street, Steve crooning some of his most personal lyrics, You should change the message on your phone/ So sad, so strange baby to hear my name/ Makes me cry when you say we’re not at home.
Then it’s the big one, as Steve says, the most popular Australian song of the last three million years, Under the Milky Way. And what can I say… the room is surging, every face in the room lights up. The second set closes with big rocker, Space Saviour. Tim’s drumming is frenetic, the cymbals getting more than a good workout. The crowd are on their feet, the band is waving and blowing kisses but no-one is leaving yet.
They return with Already Yesterday, followed by a shimmering version of Invisible, that also blends in The Velvet Underground’s classic, Heroin and again, allows Kilbey to really let go vocally. The crowd are on their feet for a second time, the band leave the stage, but still no-one is ready to go home.
The final act opens with Operetta. Truly, this song sounds like it was written for an orchestra. I have loved this song from the moment I heard it, but tonight’s version has a new magic. And finally, Marty’s guitar starts to rumble and the band break into wild-rocker, Tantalised. People start to pop up out of their seats and the room is shaking. The band remind us of their potency and we are all held in their spell.
The roar of the crowd is still inside me, and I imagine will be for some days to come. I have said to everyone who has asked me about the show that it’s nights like this that you live for.
Thankfully for the many that couldn’t be there, there will be a DVD release later in the year.
I can’t even begin to say how excited I am about flying to Sydney tomorrow morning to see my all time favourite band, The Church play the iconic Opera House with a 60-piece orchestra as the final event in their 30th anniversay tour (started last year). They have dubbed it A Psychedelic Symphony, a title fitting of a band that have pushed well beyond the realm of their 1980’s commercial popularity, into a deep vein of swirling guitar, snaking bass and driving drum beats, to create a sound that has filled almost 30 albums and EP’s and thrilled audiences the world over.
I feel like The Church have always been with me; each of their albums create distinct memories and are tied to much of my personal history. That said, there is nothing nostalgic about the band, or their sound and I am certain that when the guys do tour on their 40th anniversary, it will be on the back of another album that pushes beyond what has come before it. That is what the army of Church fans have come to love about the band.
So before I start to gush, I want to leave you with what the band do best… play live. Here’s the band playing The Disillusionist from their epic 1994 album, Priest=Aura, with Kilbey in raging rock/poet form. This was recorded last year in El Ray as part of their Past Perfect Future Tour. The Disillusionist is one of my favourite lyrics ever… and he does the Indian Rope Trick/ the one that makes you seasick (read the full lyric here).
And the great news is, tomorrow night’s show is being recorded for a DVD release. Will keep you all posted.
So it’s Australia Day…
I am not one for all the nationalistic flag waving that seems to have taken a stronghold in our culture these days, in fact, I find it downright frightening.
I do, however, often celebrate the greatness of this country through poetry & song. So if you are looking for a good hit of Australian sounds today, here’s my tips:
I came across this fantastic archive of Australian & New Zealand poets reading their work as part of last year’s NZ Electronic Poetry Centre’s two-part symposium held in Auckland & Sydney. It features readings by some of our finest contemporary poets – Ken Bolton, Pam Brown, John Tranter, Peter Minter, Jill Jones & last year’s winner of the Val Vallis Award for an unpublished poem, Michelle Cahill. There’s plenty of good stuff to dive into… so head to the NZEPC Page and slip inside a poem or three.
And if it’s Australian songs you want… then here’s my big three:
More than any other album, The Triffids – Born Sandy Devotional, captures the vastness of Australia. Wide Open Road is such an important song… David McComb’s voice still grips my heart tightly and the band ache inside me. It is a song of longing… a song of distance & light.
I recall a schoolboy coming home/ through fields of cane/ to a house of tin and timber/ And in the sky/ a rain of falling cinders
Cattle & Cane is a song you can attach memories to, more like a painting than a story. With it’s elegant acoustic/electric arrangement and distinctively Australian lyric, it has become an important part of the fabric of our sonic landscape.
In 2008, Under the Milky Way was voted by a readers of The Weekend Australian as the best Australian song of the last 20 years. The shimmering beauty of this song is timeless… a true classic. Am so looking forward to seeing the band play a special one off show – A Psychedelic Symphony – at the Sydney Opera House this April with the George Ellis Orchestra. 30 years and The Church are still looking forward…
And if you have not seen Steve Kilbey’s ARIA Hall-of-Fame acceptance speech, do yourself a favour. Pure brilliance!
So that’s my sounds of Australia… Enjoy!