Something shimmering and white. In by far their biggest song, THE CHURCH also neatly managed to accurately and quite succinctly describe what they do in four simple words. Layer and layer of gauze is deftly applied by the guitars of MARTY WILLSON-PIPER and PETER KOPPES, while the understated vocals of STEVE KILBEY hug the songs’ edges like the last bit of maple syrup you can’t quite get out of the jar. Though your average music fan might recall the band solely from “Under The Milky Way,” the band has carved such an impressive catalog since 1981 that I’d be willing to label them as the most important Aussie band of all time, at least on par with if not exceeding the likes of THE SAINTS, AC/DC or THE GO-BETWEENS. Tonight would find the band in the cozy confines of the Tupelo Music Hall, a bit of an unlikely venue/location choice as it’s ~50 miles north of Boston, but ardent Church fans packed the seats and ringed the room edges as they played a thorough sampler of their long career, which was jumpstarted with a revved up and drawn out intro of “Tantalized,” featuring Marty riffing so hard it was like he was on his Popeye forearm training program.
Steve joked a bit about their current state of affairs, saying that their new record label headquarters features scantily clad receptionists (men!) who greet the guests with glasses of champagne, while confessing to be addicted to watching the Amazon sales ranking updates of their latest record on an hourly basis. He also recounted the tale of being in a taxi recently, when “Almost With You” came on the radio. Telling the cabbie that he wrote the song, the cabbie looked at him, turned it up, and then moments later, turned it back down. “He had bad taste in music” mused Steve, and the room concurred as that very song with its chiming, Byrdsian guitars swept us into a swirl.
While the band is ostensibly touring to promote the new Untitled 23 lp (an excellent record, definitely worth getting) and played some of the best songs from it (the sublimely languid “Happenstance”; the minor key ascending beauty of “Deadman’s Hand” which has a great bass line from Kilbey; and “Pangaea” which was prefaced by a ‘jazz odyssey’ reference), they did not skimp on songs from Starfish, including an incendiary “North, East, South and West” and closing the three song encore with a brilliant version of “Hotel Womb.” Older gems such as “A Month of Sundays” and the epic “You Took” were also on display to showcase both their songwriting skills and technical approach. Willson-Piper and especially Koppes are totally underrated as guitarists, and they work so well as a team. Once you lay down Steve’s vocals (am I the only one who hears a BONO and BOWIE influence here, without the histrionics?), it really makes one wonder why they had only fleeting success when their output has never faltered. About the only quibble I can find is that Marty (who has definitely been growing his beard and hair to ward off the harsh Swedish winters) didn’t sing lead on any songs…“Chromium” would have been a great set list addition. Still, fantastic show all around.
ADAM FRANKLIN opened the show, along with his Bolts of Melody band featuring MIKEY JONES on drums, LOCKSLEY TAYLOR of SIANSPHERIC on guitar, and filling on bass was CRAIG WILSON who pulled double duty on keys for The Church; Craig was enlisted when JOSH TAYLOR suffered an ankle break. Like The Church, Adam knows a bit about being shipwrecked on a desert island when the major label ocean support rapidly ebbs away; the fact that SWERVEDRIVER isn’t revered enough to start a new religion is proof enough. Adam played it straight by sticking to the two solo albums and ignored his Swervedriver material, as well as the also-excellent MAGNETIC MORNING songs, but when you’ve got a killer tone and songwriting ability it’s all good. If “Seize The Day” isn’t a two minute kapow to your solar plexus, your pulse has stopped. How can this song not be blasting out of car windows the world over? “Surge” is another shard of brilliance, chopped out expertly by Adam’s weathered Fender Jazzmaster.
Knowing the proper usage and restraint of pedals, wah-wah and tremelo bar is a learned skill, one which Adam has clearly mapped out; he never ruins the recipe by overplaying any particular facet, but applies what’s needed exactly where it should be. “Theme From LSD” was a perfect mix of 60’s poptones fused with a simple dub-influenced bassline, rimmed with the right amount of guitar embellishments. Closer “Ramonesland” started out with a simple guitar line (kinda reminiscent of “The Opposing Engineer (Sleeps Alone)” from NEW RADIANT STORM KING and gradually built into a full-on juggernaut, the roiling sound still filling the room as Adam and Locksley left their guitars on sustain prior to vacating the stage, and Craig and Mikey finally leaving their posts as well, with a stage hand finally flicking the amp power switch off. They definitely made a few more fans tonight.
As always, more photos of both bands can be seen at my site