Part way through the recent Rick Rubin helmed miniseries, McCartney 3, 2, 1, the producer turns to the titular Beatle and informs him that in a rock band, the bassist is the orchestra’s conductor. Paul McCartney nods slowly in agreement, and so it went on the first outing on The Church’s current Australian tour.
Fresh from a recent American jaunt, The Church are currently playing Australia to promote their latest album, The Hypnogogue.
Ever evolving, the band now features American multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain as a permanent member, while Ash Naylor (Even) comes in for guitarist Peter Koppes and longtime drummer Tim Powles now sits alongside another man on the kit, Nicholas Meredith. Ian Haug remains note-perfect on guitar and centre stage is their original bassist/songwriter/visionary, Steve Kilbey.
As you’d expect from a Church show, it’s rather long, and includes a lot of new material and a generous smattering of hits. The concert runs for three hours and is divided by a twenty minute interval.
Opening with The Hypnogogue’s “Ascendence”, there’s no skimping on production. It’s a big stage, a big sound, with lots of lights and accompanying visuals. Blowing a head of steam from the outset, The Church roar through radio favourite “Metropolis” and a jewel from 1985’s Heyday, “Columbus”.
At one point, Kilbey explains the concept behind The Hypnogogue. We’ll avoid spoilers here, but the talk between songs involves a songwriting dream factory and Kilbey’s gift for rock/life anecdotes.
Alongside “Flickering Lights”, “Hotel Womb”, “Albert Ross” and the new album’s title track, the first set is punctuated by a searing “The Unguarded Moment”. Kilbey may ‘jokingly’ begrudge playing it, but tonight the song lifts the venue’s metaphorical lid.
There’s lots of sonic light and shade as the first set fades with the twelve-string glory of “Fly” from 1983’s Seance, while the second act opens with a stirring rendition of “One Day”.
Part two of the show builds… and builds. Alongside “C’est La Vie” and “Grind” are the hits “Almost With You” – with a brilliant note-for-note solo by Naylor on electric guitar. Later there’s the people’s unofficial national anthem, “Under The Milky Way”.
But it’s that sonic ‘build’ that sets The Church apart from 99.9% of other bands on the planet.
Standing centre stage, Kilbey – alongside Powles and Meridith – continues to drive the band as they launch into an off the charts reading of “Tantalised” that’s coloured by Naylor, Cain and Haug’s psych-rock guitars. In full flight, Kilbey plays the bass with a power and intent once reserved for ascending Lancaster bomber pilots in WWII.
“Second Bridge” closes the main set before they return for a chiming “Reptile”, followed by “You Took”. You could throw around phrases like prog-rock and Pink Floyd-ian, and they would be 100% accurate.
But, as “You Took” lifts to a natural peak, we are in a domain that belongs solely to The Church. The commitment of the band, the playing, the lyrics – it’s as close to a perfect Church moment as you’ll get.
As the show winds down, Kilbey sits by the drum riser, still driving the bass, not missing a note, no forelock tugged. This is The Church in 2023. Magnificent.
The Church’s Australian tour continues with stops in Hobart, Adelaide, Fremantle, St Kilda, Newtown and Newcastle. Tickets are available here.
View this post on Instagram