When Electric Gets Unplugged

The Church Rewards Santa Barbara with an Acoustic SOhO Show

by Brett Leigh Dicks

When it comes to musical crusades, few bands have crafted such magnetism as The Church. They have been romanced by major labels and flirted with commercial success. They have enchanted audiences everywhere from concert halls in New York to bars in outback Australia. Sure, there have been moments of Spinal Tap, with musical meltdowns, revolving drummers, and turning everything up to 11. But by ignoring fashions and trends, The Church’s musical star has constantly shone. And it just keeps getting brighter.

Take their new recording Uninvited, Like the Clouds, for instance. Though it’s the band’s 20th release, the album is as fresh and vibrant as anything this year. So after a quarter of a century of making music, is The Church getting better or is modern music just not measuring up?

“We are definitely getting better,” admitted lead singer Steve Kilbey. “In this ridiculously late stage of the game, we have started getting the mixture right. But for us, there’s no why or how; we just let it take us wherever it wants to go. … It’s just the endless permutations of what four people can throw out and, with that, we have broken through the barrier.”

After so many years, The Church’s equation for success is actually to ignore formulas and blueprints. Instead of entering the studio with a collection of well-rehearsed songs, they take the opposite avenue, allowing spontaneity and creativity to rein supreme. But when venturing into the studio with a blank canvas, the magic must come from somewhere.

“Why does someone paint one picture one day and something different the next?” pondered Kilbey. “I don’t know. It’s just the way it all lines up. It’s what’s going on in your private life or how much coffee you drank that day. It’s how much pot you’ve had or whether you got a speeding ticket on the way to the studio. All those things come out when you strap on your guitar. Everything is a variation that gets thrown into the mix. We just stand back and let it happen.”

The Church have been refining this laidback approach since the mid ’90s, around the time that Tim Powles settled into the drums and guitarist Peter Koppes rejoined Marty Willson-Piper and Kilbey. As they ebbed and flowed for balance, The Church put out captivating recordings. But it wasn’t until the band had found an equilibrium that it really began to reassert its considerable musical authority.

That came in 2003 with Forget Yourself. Glowing reviews, enthusiastic sales, and a world tour showed The Church to be as cohesive and dynamic as ever. The success also laid a firm foundation for Uninvited, Like the Clouds, which is currently riding a wave of critical acclaim.

“Tim has had a huge influence,” explained Kilbey. “He breathed new life into The Church. Maybe Tim took over a little too much, but it was necessary at the time. Marty was in All About Eve, Peter was only half in the band, and I was ‘tired and emotional.’ It was the path of least resistance. Now things have evened out and, with this record, everybody did what they wanted. That’s the way it should be: four people with an equal say and no one person calling the shots.” Now, fans are turning to the band’s acoustic tour, which lands at SOhO in Santa Barbara on Tuesday, July 18. It should be a revelatory show for a band whose live reputation is built upon hypnotizing electric inundation. As the four members again prepare for the rigors of touring, Kilbey is keeping his eyes firmly on the prize.

“Who was it that said music is the art form that can do things the other art forms can’t?” asked Kilbey. “Music can transcend anything. And when you are touring, it has to. Those two great hours on stage have to keep you going through 22 hours of arguments and metal detectors and lost keys and unavailable hotel rooms and sitting in a van for nine hours every day. There has to be something worthwhile at the end of all. And there is — the music. The gig is its own reward.”

4-1-1 The Church plays SOhO on Tuesday, July 18. Call 962‑7776.

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