Last night at The Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, a packed house walked out into the still-warm night, with their synapses well and truly lit. In the 2 and a half hours that had passed, The Church had hand picked the soundtrack to the last 30 years of our lives.
For me, the long-term memory was in overdrive… I have not missed the band in QLD (and have travelled many times interstate) since 1990, when I donned my green, pink and black paisley shirt (that one still hangs in the cupboard), black stovepipe Lee’s and Ripple-sole shoes and stepped excitedly into Transformers (on Elizabeth St., now some British Pub I think…) to see The Church supported by another local hero of mine, Grant McLennan. Memories like this were constantly flashing through my head last night as the band played a song from each album in their heady career, starting with Pangaea from last year’s Untitled #23, which recalled a hellishly steamy November night at The Zoo, when the band tore through an epic set to launch the album.
Then it is the fluid groove of Space Needle from Uninvited Like the Clouds (2006), that fires up memories of a night at The Troubadour, where we all walked out smiling with a copy of the limited edition album Tin Mine in our hands, followed by Ionian Blues from the seriously underrated Back With Two Beasts album, which never really got an official release.
We then get a language lesson from the ever dapper Marty Willson-Piper as the band dips into El Momento Siguiente and pulls out the gem that is Reptile. Even in stripped back, acoustic mode, Kilbey’s bass line snakes its way into your chest to delivers its venom.
Peter Koppes then takes the mic for Appalatia from Forget Yourself followed by the timeless opening riff of Unguarded Moment from the first of their acoustic albums, El Momento Descuidado. The band are well into their stride and Kilbey is in raconteur mode, regaling the crowd with stories of playing Warnambool and the manager racing upstairs after a gig to tell them to get back on stage as the crowd were rioting as they had not played said song.
We are then treated to the epic Invisible from After Everything Now This, with the band rising to a glorious crescendo and Kilbey riffing on Kevin Ayers’ Decadence, which the band covered on A Box of Birds, followed by the lush guitar sounds of Louisiana from 1998’s, Hologram of Baal. An album that has a very special place in my heart… the first time I heard this album I was to say the very least, ‘relaxed’, and it has forever worked its way into my fabric.
The mid-to-late 90’s was undoubtedly a difficult period in the band’s history and Kilbey is not backward in introducing Magician Among The Spirits as a miserable album, but tonight’s version of Comedown is absolutely joyous. The first half of the set is then rounded out by My Little Problem from Sometime Anywhere… and I am back in 1994 at Grand Orbit (what a shortlived venue that was), excitedly watching Steve & Marty in acoustic mode, thankful that they were still making music after threatening to split a couple of years earlier.
The second half of the show opens with the gorgeous Mistress from my all time favourite Church album, Priest = Aura. After seeing the band tour on this album at the now sadly defunct Metropolis (I think the last time I saw Kilbey play his famed milk-white electric bass), I wondered whether I would ever see them again, which makes tonight even more special. And speaking of Metropolis, this song followed, with Marty giving it some Spanish flair.
It was at this time (with tongue firmly in cheek) that Kilbey started to discuss the success graph of the band and the next album, 1988’s Starfish, definitely saw the graph skyrocket. And tonight they give us a classic version of the anthemic, Under the Milky Way. To put it simply… Starfish got me through Year 12. In the head of a 17 year old at odds with the societal pressures of school and becoming a man, Starfish provided much needed solace. Can’t ever thank them enough for what it did for me.
Then it’s headlong into the paisley era of Heyday. The set list has had its surprises, but none bigger than Already Yesterday, which after some on stage chatter, they agree, they may never have played before this tour. It sparkles, still possessing a youthful shimmer.
The Remote Luxury LP is next and this time it’s Marty’s turn to take the lead vocal, on 10 000 Miles Away. The 3 strong guitar/mandolin sound is sublime, stirring the crowd for the final numbers of the night.
From Seance its the sublimely gothic Fly and then its straight into another Church classic, Almost With You from their second album, The Blurred Crusade. Peter’s guitar solo is as sharp as ever. Anyone that hasn’t played air guitar along to this just hasn’t lived!
And finally, we are back in 1980, delving into Of Skins and Hearts. We know it’s not going to be Unguarded Moment, so it is a real thrill when the band lock into the slick bass groove and jangly guitar of Tear It All Away. It’s a classic way to finish off 30 years of time travel…
But the band are incredibly generous, coming back to treat us to a cover of The Smashing Pumpkins song, Disarm, a rocking version of Space Saviour and finally a full-tilt jam of their 1990 classic, Grind. This has always been a live favourite and tonight they don’t disappoint. Steve and Tim, providing the rhythmic engine, for Peter to lay down a luxurious bed of keys and for Marty to cut loose (I am sure he was finding new notes on the fretboard), before tonight’s journey reaches its conclusion.
Great art is an amazing thing… it changes you, becomes part of you, so while tonight’s show is over, the life of each of these songs (and the countless others that weren’t played) have taken on a new meaning. I know my stereo at home (and in the car) is about to become very familiar (again) with the atmosphere and electricity of The Church… ah yes, there are many new memories to be created.