It was rather apt that The Church should mark their first gig in Hobart for more than twenty years one week ahead of the ritual bacchanalia that is Dark Mofo. A perfect time for sonic absolution before the descent into the wicked ways of Hobart’s famed winter festival.
And what a performance it was. The Church have been around for 40 years, and, unlike many bands of that vintage, their set was not a sepia-tinged nostalgic excursion. The set was heavily weighted in favour of their last and hugely acclaimed album The Hypnogogue (see my review here). Older songs tended to come from the earlier years and were not mere duplicates or a replication of the past: the songs were thoroughly deconstructed and rebuilt into something far more palatial and substantial.
The band were on stage for a phenomenal three hours with an intermission, but it honestly felt like five minutes – there were no ennui, no urge to check the watch. Every song was immersive, the performances of the band transfixing. The creaky old boards of the Odeon Theatre provided a perfect stage.
Of course the personnel may have changed over the years but the rock steady and enigmatic presence of Steve Kilbey is the essential kernel of the machine. The band now consists of Ian Haug (Powderfinger and Tasmanian born), American multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain, Ash Naylor (Even) and longtime drummer Tim Powles paired with Nicholas Meredith. The passion and camaraderie on stage was eminently visible: Haug with his rock steady enigmatic presence almost still while Naylor and Cain interacted wildy and with great expression. In my recent interview with Kilbey, he joked about having an alternative career as a stand up comedian and his banter in between sings was hilarious and effortless. His was a performance that was entertaining and mesmerising, and it is easy to overlook his prowess at the bass – the complexity and pulse of ‘You Took’ – as well as the range in his vocals – ‘No Other You’. The twin drum attack added thunder and precision.
‘Tantalised’ was a blistering explosion with a thrum like a wave of helicopters beating the air – stretched and enhanced. Classics such as ‘Under The Milky Way’ and ‘Unguarded Moment’ thrilled and enthralled as much for their familiarity as their delivery. It was a joy to hear ‘Fly’ from the criminally underrated ‘Seance’ – I don’t recall ever hearing that live before.
But the new material was not diminished in such distinguished company: the new songs soared and shimmered with a melodic intensity of their own. Kilby thanked the audience for their patience with the new material, but this was not necessary – every song was applauded with gusto and enthusiasm.
‘Antarctica’ by all accounts assembled from a series of jams, was thrilling and dynamic, ‘No Other You’ pure dream pop mastery, ‘Albert Ros’ achingly beautiful, ‘C’est La Vie’ anthemic and majestic.
The guitars were pure joy – Naylor’s scything sweeps in the final encore ‘You Took’ were monumental, the interplay between Naylor, Haug and Cain note perfect and perfectly constructed into a gale force wind of twelve string guitars and the kind of jingle jangle sound the band could almost patent. The last three songs before the intermission were delivered on ringing, chiming acoustic guitars, crisp and delicious.
You would be hard pressed to find a band of with this level of longevity that still innovates and expands its metier with such style and panache. The joy of the band was infectious, the absence of ego or attitude refreshing. It may have been dark and wintery in Hobart on Saturday night but the radiance from this band was immeasurable. And I didn’t mention the words worship or altar once.
No Other You
The Unguarded Moment
Old Coast Road
Almost With You
C’est la vie
Under the Milky Way
I Think I Knew
Photographs: Arun Kendall