Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell

Two and a half years have evaporated in the blink of an eye and we find a rejuvenated, re-energised Kilbey, Koppes, Powles & Haug as they return to 170 Russell to catch us up on what’s been happening in the world of one of Australia’s most adored and revered bands, The Church.

Building on the recent creative streak that began with the success of ‘Untitled 23’, a lineup change with the arrival of Ian Haug (ex Powderfinger) which in turn spawned a second critically acclaimed album, 'Further Deeper’, we are now presented with the Church's latest opus, 'Man Woman Life Death Infinity’. Extremely well received with solid 4 and 5 star reviews, it has thrilled fans, boasting tracks that are among some of the best they’ve written.

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[

Tonight a capacity crowd are treated to a peppering of these newbies interspersed with nearly all the classics we’ve come to expect, plus judiciously selected deeper cuts.

As the band take their places in the half darkness, the soft lilting strains of ‘Aura’ (Priest=Aura, 1992) ebb slowly in and swirl around, creating a mellow liftoff. Kilbey eventually appears from side of stage, sartorially resplendent in satin waistcoat and sea green shirt – a man on a mission – a mission man: in song mode, as intense and focussed as I’ve ever seen him… and then whilst bantering in between tracks, humorous and jovially laconic.

“How can you be so invisible
Give me the nerves to see
Privilege on privilege
An unwanted discovery…”

Jangly classic ‘Myrhh’ follows (Heyday 1985), and its romantic positivity grabs us by the scruff of our necks and jolts us out of our dream sleep with its accelerating intro. It is very true to the original, featuring characteristic spacey guitar interplay between Koppes and Haug.

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[

Aiding and abetting the guys tonight, on guitars and keyboards up on the drum riser with Powles, is multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain (from Remy Zero). Already known to Church fans as a frequent Kilbey collaborator, Jeffrey was responsible for the two very beautiful Kilbey/Cain penned 'Isidore’ albums. He survived a rushed baptism into the Church learning a set of 25 classics earlier on this year in just three weeks… and is the bands quiet achiever… he just seamlessly goes about his business… during tonights set his work rate never seems to slow and his prowess on the acoustic effectively fills the gap left by Marty’s departure – his presence once again opening up the possibility for the band to play songs like ‘Tantalised’ and ‘Reptile'.

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[

Back into dark territory again with the next song…

"When you take off your head… But the darkness prevails… And they loosen the screws… But that remedy fails… You flake away just like gold… The flecks are under my skin… And you reach into time… Feel the era begin.”

Kilbey’s vivid imagery in ‘Toyhead’ (from Further Deeper) evokes a twisted, maudlin, hammeresque horror and when Powles thumps the track to its tempestuous thundery crescendo, it’s seriously impressive. What would certainly be a train wreck in the hands of anybody else, is instead masterfully executed.

The mood changes again for the next song…
Kilbey: “You might’ve heard this fucking stupid song on the radio…”

It’s ‘Metropolis’ (Gold Afternoon Fix 1990)… Haug and Koppes' trademark twin guitar attack peels out and the audience are right there with the band… As if for added impact, Kilbey punctuates the intro with ‘Fuck yeah’ high kicks at the audience. Powles throttles the frequent tempo changes within the track artfully – at once both the brakeman and then the coaxer.

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[

The first track from 'Man Woman Life Death Infinity’ (MWLDI) to get a guernsey tonight is the very romantic ‘Another Century’… Koppes' gorgeous slide work together with some heavenly harmonies from Powles and Cain meld together beautifully and wash over a spellbound audience. This is the magic we have come for. It’s the first time the audience have heard this track live and they cheer deliriously when it finishes… Steve seems genuinely chuffed at its warm reception.

As if in keeping with the current mood, the next selection for the night is Further Deeper’s ‘Delirious’... a song with obtuse lyrics that could be about anything really but which I’ve interpreted to be Steve's reflection on the songwriting process.

“If anyone thinks this is easy
When everyone thinks it's deliberately done
These pieces are easy, they try to put them all together
It's impossible, do you think you could please me”

“In 1983 we made an album called ‘Seance’… which was too groovy for the philistines of the day to fuckin’ dig… and now we have the first track for you.. a stroll down memory lane.”

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[

It’s an immaculate shimmering rendering of ‘Fly’… a comparative live rarity these days. It's soft wash of guitars provide a perfect backdrop for Kilbeys soft thrumming bass refrain. It’s impeccably played by all and is so understated and perfect. As the song fades into silence Koppes kicks things up another level with the familiar introduction to Starfish’s 'North, South, East, West' and the crowd goes mental…

An introspective dreamlike ‘Day 5’ from 'Uninvited Like the Clouds’ brings us back down for a brief interlude and features some of Kilbey’s most evocative lyrics.

We came to a chasm dark and wide
And drifted in silence through endless anemones
In shallow dreams
Life was beginning to take a shape
Water was warm as it hastened our enemies...

This kind of world will start a little colony
This kind of earth will eat a little energy
This kind of thing needs a little secrecy”

It’s time for 1984’s ‘Persia' to get a dusting down and tonights track is the magnificent ‘Constant In Opal’… it’s an incendiary version with Powles just a frenzied blur of drumsticks as the guitars helter-skelter in every direction.

‘Undersea’ from MWLDI is next which features quite a Bowie-esque refrain.

“Crack, makes a low boy ache... faster
Flack, makes a slow boy shake... faster
Slack, makes a show boy fake his master...
(It’s effect disaster)"

The new single “I don’t know how… I don’t know why” follows… Koppes plays some sensational eBow on this and the way it just glides along is pure heaven.

After this little bit of sonic relaxation, the band’s work rate goes into overdrive… a squalling cacophony erupts from Koppes and Haug and signals it’s time for ‘Tantalised’… the front rows of the audience are just flailing heads as they lose themselves in the ardour of this magnificently frenzied track.

Source: Fan footage from YouTube

The band look a bit winded and spent by the time it finishes and so it’s a perfect time to bring things right back down for a loving ‘Under the Milky Way’… I watch Peter Koppes from my spot at the front of stage and his relaxed nonchalance as he tosses his eBow to his guitar tech side of stage, brings a smile to my dial. Such an quietly unassuming and understated talent… he renders such a gorgeous set of solos.

Source: Fan footage from YouTube

Keeping with Starfish for the next little while, next up is ‘Reptile’. Jeffrey and Ian do the brunt of the spadework on this while Koppes soars around in the background. Kilbey spends a lot of the song striking impressive spread-eagled poses with his bass at the front of stage, and the sliding runs he employs so effectively on this track really give it bite. With Powles superb time keeping, Reptile showcases everything that is magic about this band.

Source: Fan footage from YouTube

With the main set over the band retreats for a quick break before coming back on to do the unthinkable…

As they return to the stage, someone down the back yells out for an old rarity.

Steve stands at the microphone in silence…
”Too Fast for Youuuuu… too fast for you-ooo-oooo… Too Fast for youooo…
OK, this one is EVEN WORSE than that… I’m doing this for YOU… because I HATE IT!…"
Powles: “You’ll hate yourself in the morning…"
Steve: "I’m gonna do myself a fucking favour….”

Source: Fan footage from YouTube

The audience are at once floored and then ecstatic as the unmistakable intro of ‘The Unguarded Moment’ rings out. Now 170 Russell is one joyous singalong. Those who know what a walking contradiction Kilbey is these days realise that in these situations he is simultaneously embarrassed but also reveling in what he regards as the obtuseness of the moment. He holds up his bass like a rifle to playfully illustrate the lyric ‘…with rifles for eyes’… Recent recruit Ian Haug has said numerous times he loves seeing the Church play these classics and has long been badgering Kilbey to give some of the older gems like this a run around the block – knowing full well it will please punters AND sell more tickets… Tonight it’s one of the many highlights.

‘Block’ is the second song of the encore and despite having to compete with so many other songs for a place in the setlist, has proven itself to be a firm favourite with audiences...It’s a massive track with the kind of power and majesty that truly transcends… the band (and the audience) just lose themselves in it for the next 8 minutes.

Dripping wet by the end of ‘Block’, the band are quite prepared to call it quits for the night – but the audience are having none of it…. clapping, whistling and stomping for more. After a few minutes backstage to towel down the guys return, all smiles from ear to ear… tonight’s been a glorious triumph.

The two songs they opt to close out proceedings with are both inspired choices. The first is perhaps destined to become another Church classic… it’s the spoken squalling poem ‘Dark Waltz’ from MWLDI and is indeed one dark mother…

"When you live and die and laugh and cry all in the space of a second (when I wasn't there)
When you hit the subtotal on your bill and still it was all so much more than you reckoned (when I wasn't there)
When you stumble on the path of tears, don't crumble now that future has beckoned”

By the songs end, it has cemented its place among my favourites...

“We have one more for you… but it’s long!… I’m moving back to Miami… I’m living down by the sea… You’ll be able to see me… anytime really”

Source: Fan footage from YouTube

This 12 minute epic closing track from 'Further Deeper' is just the most superb way to finish what has been a sensational night… Kilbey, ever the humorist, changes up the Humphrey Bogart and Janet Leigh references to David Bowie and Brian Eeeeenooooo… Peter Koppes contributes some great harp in the mid-section… Powles is just a force of nature on this… he rockets the track along like an unstoppable freight train. We pretty much just stand there with our mouths hanging open as 5 minutes from the finish the band gradually take the song apart, amid a maelstrom of feedback, delays and effects… The 'feel' this band has is just unbelievable… Kilbey finally disengages his weapon, shoulders it and then marches soldierly back and forth across the stage while his bandmates gradually quell the magnificent beast, and one-by-one depart the stage, leaving just Jeffrey to strum us out.

A performance like we saw tonight begs the obvious question… Why the hell aren't this band mega? When they are ‘on’, few other bands out there are capable of the kind of iconic transcendent performances The Church are... and yet despite this, the band just never seemed to break through into the mainstream. As such, they have remained probably one of the best kept secrets in Australian Music. It is great for those of us already converted, who know enough not to miss an opportunity to see them, in that we will never struggle to get a ticket, but I believe they truly deserve to be enjoying the fruits of their labour and talent and be commanding a much wider audience.

It’s true… Being a Church fan has its ups and downs… and it can be a loveless fascination… Occasionally they can be just okay, or, like tonight’s show, they can be incendiary.

To those poor souls sitting on the fence of ambivalence... Grab yourselves a ticket at the earliest opportunity because these guys have NEVER been better. Like anything in life, it’s always a gamble but to paraphrase SK himself in ‘Another Century’…

'Something nice might come of it.'


Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[
Source: Photography by Harry Williams

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[



For Carbie Warbie's complete colourful photo gallery of The Church, go to our sister music website, GigBill.

Life Speeds Up with The Church at 170 Russell[
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