At SOhO, Tuesday, July 18.
Reviewed by Darian Bleecher
Best known for their Top 40 single “Under the Milky Way,” Australian art-rock band the Church launched its acoustic U.S. tour at SOhO last Tuesday night in support of their critically acclaimed new release, Uninvited, Like the Clouds. After 26 years and near as many albums, the astonishingly prolific band continues to weave breathtaking, innovative music. Long ago abandoning concerns of commercial success, the Church creates lush, elegiac soundscapes on its own terms.
Led by “minister of melancholy numbers” Steve Kilbey, the Church toured the devoted crowd through nearly three hours of its extensive musical canon, revisiting past material along with compositions from the new album. Joshing between songs about the longevity of the band, the Church presented elegant, sumptuous arrangements and elaborate, spontaneous jams.
Opening with Uninvited’s dusky, atmospheric “Block,” the band immediately graced the crowd with favorites “All I Know,” featuring Peter Koppes’s staccato mandolin contrasting with Kilbey’s languid vocals; and a tongue-in-cheek, Spanish-tinged rendition of “Metropolis,” juxtaposing guest Patti Hood’s delicate harp with guitarist Marty Willson-Piper’s furious strumming. The audience basked in the otherworldly Arabian motifs of “Grind,” the magnificent soaring crescendos of “Providence,” and the majestic guitar structures and languid narration of Uninvited’s “Day 5.”
Over time, the Church has developed a magical collective creativity, and that collaborative jam-band spirit was evident. The expansive, Eastern-tinged “Two Places at Once” featured alternating Willson-Piper and Kilbey vocals. “Sealine” saw numerous instrument changes, with Willson-Piper on drums, Koppes on guitar, and Tim Powles on keyboards. Though Koppes led the vocals on “A New Season,” and Willson-Piper lent his pipes to “Tristesse” and the bluesy new “She’ll Come Back for You Tomorrow,” Kilbey’s laconic vocal intonations remain the band’s gold standard. Willson-Piper’s thin voice doesn’t hold a candle to the sublime nuances of Kilbey’s velvety murmur or to his own considerable instrumental prowess.
Far from becoming pumpkins as the witching hour approached, the band favored the still-enthusiastic crowd with two encores, including the first-ever U.S. airing of “The Unguarded Moment,” and a rendering of “Constantinople,” laced with lyrics from “Because the Night” and “If I Had a Hammer.” Even after over a quarter-century of musical experimentation, the Church remains unparalleled, intriguing, and unpredictable as ever.