When I told one of the interns who assists me that I was excited to see the special in-studio session one day, I had to stop myself. “Wait, you probably wouldn’t know them,” I said, but then added, “The Church.” Blank stare. “Under the Milky Way”? No recognition… whatsoever… Apparently, he was born the year I first saw them perform live… sigh.
But unlike some of the other bands I was listening to a generation ago, The Church never crumbled under the weight of their mainstream success, which they had with 1988’s Starfish, (though they did buckle quite a few times along the way) and they’ve maintained a consistently fruitful career amounting to 23 albums (including the latest, titled unironically Untitled #23) and nearly uncountable EPs, live discs, scores, and side projects. While not all albums have been equally received by fans and critics, there’s no doubt in listening to their new material that the core tenets of the band have lasted. Longtime fans will find the same atmospheric, psychedelic, emotionally melodic songs with moody electronics, suggestive lyrics and driving basslines from Steve Kilbey, tantalizing interplay between founding guitarists Peter Koppes and Marty Wilson-Piper, and propulsive drumming from Tim Powles. If The Church ever had an original form, this might be a return to it, but really Untitled #23 is yet another chapter in one of the longest ongoing band’s musical legacy.
The band’s current tour, entitled “So Love May Find Us,” is taking them through a variety of mid-sized theaters — the Roxy, Slim’s, Harrah’s, Beachland Ballroom, the Rex, Irving Plaza (tonight!) — guaranteeing the lucky ticket holders of these sold out shows an intimate experience with a band they’ve likely been listening to for 20 years or more. At the beautiful Triple Door in Seattle, it was hard to find anyone under 30 not accompanied by an “adult,” who had dragged them along.
While many less lucky fans lined up at the door hoping to find space inside, those of us already seated, with our plates of Wild Ginger pad thai and glasses of beer and lychee coolers, watched labelmate Adam Franklin and Bolts of Melody open with a moody, shoegazing, but by no means slow or boring set. Having seen him last doing an acoustic set, I was blown away by the sonic depth of the electrified versions of songs from his two solo albums, particularly the blistering and epic set closer, “Ramonesland.”
The Church, of course, were the main draw, and they announced right away with their set opener, “Tantalized,” dating back to the tour when I first saw them live (opening for Echo & The Bunnymen in ’86), that we’d be treated to a mix of old and new. More recent songs (“Pangea,” “Operetta,” “Deadman’s Hand,” “Space Savoir”) sat in perfectly with less recent (“After Everything,” “Block” ) and much older (“You Took,” “A Month Of Sundays”) ones. Obviously, not all of the their massive catalog could be represented, but they’d definitely be remiss if they had not performed “Under the Milky Way” — of course, they did, just before ending their main set with “Reptile” followed by “Hotel Womb” in the final encore. Hearing all of these songs together, played as energetically and enthusiastically as they were, you’d hardly believe that 27 years had passed between the earliest and latest songs.
Before the show that night, members of KEXP’s 500 Club were treated to a special set as part of our VIP Club concert series also held at The Triple Door, which we broadcast that same day. Kilbey and crew were dressed a bit more summery (i.e. not all in black) as for the later show, but even during the middle of the day they managed to transport a room full of people to their familiar darkly alluring corners. Here’s “Deadman’s Hand,” “Pangaea,” “Operetta,” “You Took,” and “Block” from the session:
View Ron Henry’s photos from the session here.