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The Aquarian reviews a 1986 Church show Print E-mail
Wednesday, 06 August 1986

The Aquarian

August 6, 1986

Concert Review



Here?s One Church That Won?t Corrupt You!


By Abby Weissman

And the punch line is: Almost fitting into the neat categories so dear to the collective heart of the music biz is no way to get rich. Record companies and rock journalists thrive on the easy definitions that make for successful sales; bands that are hard to label tend to have a hard life.

The three groups on this very mixed bill at the Ritz have this dilemma (though little else) in common.

Each seems, at first glance, to be easily pigeonholed: The Church, from Sydney, Australia, are vaguely neopsychedelic; the Minneapolis-based Suburbs sport the trappings of blue-eyed funk; NYC?s Cowboy Mouth could join the already over-crowded roots rock scene. But, not quite/

Each band is a bit too original for their own good, presenting a much more complex blend of components with enough individual quirks to avoid their designated category. Unfortunately, this admirable desire to be unique is reflected in the bands? history of indie releases, label changes and general struggle.

Of the three, the Church is the most successful (at least in Australia) and by far the best, a brilliant band that deserves more. Hopefully, Heyday, their new album on Warner Brothers--a label which has lately proved its integrity by signing experimental acts (The Jesus & Mary Chain, The Replacements, etc.)--will get it for them.

As for the opening bands: anyone who names their band after a Sam Shepard play can?t be all bad, and Cowboy Mouth weren?t bad at all--an interesting group with an original, somewhat tongue-in-cheek approach that puts them ahead of the country punk pack. Cowboy Mouth is a thinking man?s version of, say, the Del-Lords, with intense, mean-edged melody lines blending easily with a dash of rockabilly. Complete with a Farfisa organ and a Ventures-style twangy guitar, their original material is a pleasant blend of ?60s and ?80s sensibilities.

Front man Dave Laredo has an amused, slightly rude stage presence and a voice reminiscent of Ricky Nelson on the edge of hysteria. Laredo is no newcomer to the music business; his experience includes a stint as a recording engineer (Alan Vega, The Fleshtones, John Cale) and as a member of Cale?s band.

Cowboy Mouth played a short set of capable originals from their new album, Cowboys And Indians, on the Boston-based Throbbing Lobster label. This relatively new band avoids much of the clich?s of their more-or-less category and deserves some attention.

Don?t ever stand in the front row during a Suburbs set. Between the guy with the soap bubble blower and various hecklers throwing their drinks at vocalist/rhythm guitarist Beej Chaney, an umbrella was a good thing to have (several people did, in fact, unfurl theirs).

For a band which plays, essentially, funky party-hearty music, the Suburbs have a grating, combative quality, both musically and attitudinally. Chaney?s onstage persona, particularly, has an obnoxiously snotty edge one suspects is deliberate. The flying drinks phased him not a bit; he responded by going offstage and returning with a hefty glass of water, with which he doused his tormenters. He also tried to kick them.

The Suburbs have definitely had an aggressively masochistic approach to their career since they began in the late ?70s, including releasing a double album on an obscure indie label, and opening for the least compatible bands imaginable, for instance, heavy metal veterans, Krokus.

This might account for their sound. The Suburbs produce bitter rave-up music (particularly inn its live incarnation), always treading the thin line between pleasant-enough wall of sound and a jarring earache. Band members traverse the stage in syncopated, somewhat klutzy, movements.

Thematically, the Suburbs? sensibility reminds one of a frantic but ultimately bad party, where someone broke a window to the consternation of the resident parents, where dumpy drunk girls passed out on the couch, and the object of one?s passion did not show up.

Two of their songs said it best: ?Every Night?s A Friday Night (In Hell)? and ?Heart Of Gold,? with Chaney screaming out the refrain, ?what does it matter, it doesn?t matter at all.?

Despite their considerably more accessible album on new label A&M, the Suburbs don?t seem destined for whatever dreams of stardom they might have once had. They have internalized their struggles to the point where their we?re-gonna-play-whether-you-like-it-or-not-asshole attitude is central to what they do. And that makes them not particularly likeable--though deserving, at least, of a grudging respect.

After a somewhat long period of taped instrumentals emanating from a darkened stage, the Church finally came on--and launched into their set with a velocity that would blow away any crowd of hardcore metalheads.

On record, the Church come off as intelligent and thoughtful, if a bit low-key. Their blend of dreamlike, ethereal pop is built around a classic, guitar-textured wall of sound. Although it does borrow from ?60s psychedelia, their music avoids the retro quality of much of the neo-psych genre--it?s driving and modern, brimming with ringing, effects-laden guitars. Founding member and bassist Steven Kilbey is a master songwriter, creating power-packed riffs and memorable hooks.

But Heyday barely hints at what the Church is like live. These guys play like motherfuckers; the producer who translates their concert sound to vinyl could well make them a mega hit.

The Church came on like the conquering heroes they should be, adding the aggressive energy level of punk to their lyrical imagery and Moody Blues/Pink Floyd-like romanticism. The jangly, squealing guitar sound hits first, backed by a tight and metal-tinged rhythm. But the band?s intense, high-powered live sound doesn?t erase the slightly melancholy, pop undertones of their record. Their songs, like ?Tantalized? and ?Tristesse,? project a genuine feeling, laden with brooding minor chords and an eerie reverb that contrasts nicely with their fierce, punk-sounding bottom.

The members of the Church are virtuoso musicians, good enough to do extended, runaway instrumentals and keep the audience?s attention. Their songs change tempo when you least expect them to, slowing down for an acidy, nightmare-soundtrack break, then revving up again.

The Church?s general attitude is also admirable: they were polite and unassuming, and seemed sincerely grateful for the enthusiastic reaction of the crowd, which called them back for multiple encores.

Heyday is a worthwhile, if not absolutely essential, addition to anyone?s record collection. But the next time the Church play in these parts--just get out of your house and go.

Transcribed by Mike Fulmer

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