Hot August Night

The Church, with Rob Dickinson
Variety Playhouse, Atlanta, GA
Sunday, August 6, 2006

The Church has been my favorite band pretty much since the day I bought Starfish my senior year of high school. I remember driving home from Cat's Records in Brentwood, popping the cassette into the stereo, and the chiming guitar intro of "Destination" filling up the car. From that moment on I was hooked. My love for delay-soaked guitar found absolute perfection in the interwoven guitars of Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper. It is to this day my all time favorite album.

This was the fifth time I've seen them, and the first time I've ever been apprehensive about it. This trek was being billed as "a wholly acoustic tour," and it was their effects-ridden guitars as much as Steve Kilbey's sublime baritone delivery and surreal lyrics that created the atmospheric sound I fell in love with. I enjoyed their 2004 acoustic album El Momento Descuidado, but I wondered if they'd be able to create the otherworldly magic I'd experienced at their previous shows without their usual bag of electronic tricks.

The answer turned out to be a resounding yes. This tour marked their 25th anniversary, the setlist ran the entire gamut of their career, from their 1981 single "The Unguarded Moment" through their 2006 album Uninvited, Like The Clouds. They managed to ward off the sameness that can sometimes creep into acoustic shows by switching up instruments early and often. Drummer Tim Powles also played piano (often playing tamborine & shakers at the same time). Koppes bounced back and forth between guitar and piano, as well as adding mandolin and harmonica to the mix. Kilbey and Willson-Piper switched off on guitar and bass duties, and the later even took a turn on the drums during "Sealine." The varied approach worked wonders, and they managed to create the same ethereal magic that their shows have always been known for.

The emotional high water mark of the show was without a doubt their take on "Providence," a song Kilbey wrote with Go-Betweens founder Grant McLennan for their 1991 side project Jack Frost. Kilbey has often cited it as one of the best songs he's ever written, and it made for a beautiful tribute to the recently departed McLennan. The show's sonic high spots were the encores of "Invisible" and "Constant In Opal." Joined onstage on opener Rob Dickinson, they somehow managed to match the chaotic intesity of their usual closer "Tantalized," but without the amplification and effects.

Former Catherine Wheel frontman Dickinson started off the night with a set culled mostly from last year's solo debut Fresh Wine For The Horses, with a couple of CW classics thrown in for good measure ("Heal," "Crank" and "Black Metallic''). Armed with just an acoustic guitar and an occasional stomp on the distortion pedal, me manged to keep even casual fans (like me) interested throughout with engaging performances and between song antidotes from his childhood and CW days (it probably helps that fans of the Church and the Catherine Wheel are fairly well cross-polinated). It made for a great night of music from a couple of alt-rock's elder statesman.

The Church - "Unified Field" (mp3) from Uninvited, Like The Clouds

Read Steve Kilbey's thoughts on the gig on his blog, The Time Being. Photo courtesy of Virginia. See more of her photos from the tour on her flickr page.

post title by Neil Diamond


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