Pictures by Jax
I went to the show last night at House of Blues. What a trippy ride. I have some history with that band, Jeez. It was like the life review you get just before you die, for me. Some of the places they took me made me almost weep with pleasure to realize how much I've missed what I had forgotten I had lost, some made me feel sort of angry - like when they played Almost With You, such a great song, and really obscure in the grand scheme of things; and on and on we go.
The stuff from the new record sounded awesome. They pulled off the 5/8 beat on Buffalo, I'll bet they could never have done that without Tim, who was incredible. There's a man with a kit! I never much liked JD's stripped down approach. I like a lot of different drums. Bruce [Donnette's drummer] has a kit like Tim's. And then when he pares it down, like in Day of the Dead, it's chilling.
Peter fills the room with audible stars and celestial glowing matter, as he always did, using all kinds of mysterious equipment that still stumps me. Marty's huge charisma has increased exponentially in his separation from the audience he so adores, Church audiences are the most devoted I've ever seen. He gave a completely flawless performance, singing his difficult Two Places At Once part beautifully, and playing guitar that has inspired young guitarists all over the world with good reason.
Steve was at ease on stage, and played a 6-string bass that very much resembles a Strat, now with a pick, and he includes some arpeggio parts that sound like a very rich, deep guitar (forgive me, I don't remember what the song was he intro'ed with that, something from the new record which I've not yet memorized). He made several quips, sang a verse of "Dream On" in Grind, and bantered with Peter explaining to the crowd that Peter was high on Sudafed after a song ended with a funny note. Peter asked the sound man to adjust his monitors, and the sound system annoyed Steve too. The ringing PA feedback never abated and even in the last song of the encore, You Took, the PA fed back in the dramatic quiet part and ruined the song for Steve, who looked visibly injured by the ear-bleeding screech as he tried to sing. He left the last half of the last line of singing and stepped back, frustrated, to stand in the sonic neutral zone where the monitors and amplifier speakers were not aimed at him. It was too bad, up to that point the song was the showstopper it always has been. But the song ends with a long instrumental part, so they left the stage on a tide of powerful musicianship, though it was clear to us all that they would not perform another encore.
The main difference I noticed in this show as compared to the other shows I attended when the band was signed to Arista is that this time, they seem to be doing it for themselves, doing it with heart, enjoying the path they're on and not so focused on the intangible and frightening final destination. This is the kind of hunger for sound and pleasure in their playing that I had always wanted to see again, that I saw many many years ago when they toured Heyday. Funny how circular life is, don't you think? It took a long road to get those guys to play like that again, with the fierceness of youth, but better this time; now they also have the finesse of veteran musicians.
Though principals Steve Kilbey and Marty Willson-Piper performed stateside during an acoustic tour supporting 1996's largely overlooked Magician Among The Spirits, The Church's current dates have been noteworthy as the band's first plugged-in North American appearances in eight years. The Hologram of Baal tour also boasts the welcome return of founding guitarist Peter Koppes to the clergy.
Newest recruit Tim Powles, the band's studio drummer since 1994, showed reverence for the previous longest standing drummer, Richard Ploog, while concurrently reinforcing his own claim to the position. The Sometime Anywhere gem "Day of the Dead" and Gold Afternoon Fix's "Grind" gave Powles the opportunity to set a haunting mood. And though a demure Kilbey responded to an overzealous fan's calls for early Australian single/albatross "The Unguarded Moment" with a dismissive "Yeah, right," the band did haul out chestnuts such as The Blurred Crusade's "Almost With You." Kilbey introduced the latter song as harkening "back to the pretentious period. I co-wrote this song with a pterodactyl."
The guitar interplay between Willson-Piper and Koppes on Heyday's "Myrrh" and Starfish's "Destination" reminded everyone how integral Koppes is to the band's sound. Willson-Piper showed fine form for the most part, with stunningly quick lead blasts and flamenco flourishes rendering him the heir-apparent poster boy for repetitive strain injury. He only faltered noticeably on the machine-gun rhythm workout of "Tantalized," during which he and Powles couldn't quite seem to synch up.
The Church dutifully trotted out their signature single, "Under the Milky Way," eliciting inconsolable sobs from the attendee who had earlier begged for "The Unguarded Moment." Kilbey summed up the band's somewhat-rushed reading by explaining, "It's like meeting your ex-wife after ten years, and she hasn't changed. It's a bit too familiar."
Other highlights included a powerful interpretation of "Aura," and the majestic Kilbey/Willson-Piper duet, "Two Places at Once." The sole new songs from the evening, the stately single "Louisiana," and the 12-string acoustic feature "Buffalo" were well received, though unfamiliar, since the concert preceded Hologram's Stateside release.
It's 9 am and I'm groggy from being up half the night but wanting to knock out my fresh impressions of the show, all the while keeping an ear turned to the President's positively *surreal* videotaped testimony (suddenly "Blood Money" comes to mind! Clearly she was *not* worth the ransom, Mr. President. But I digress.)
The thing that I wondered before the show was: is this going to feel like 1988 all over again or is it going to feel like a different, more mature Church? At times it was a bit of both -- like 3 maturing friends who revel in and are wholly comfortable with the songs, sound, and fury they can create as a solid group, and yet recapturing the glory of the Heyday and Starfish tours. At other times I saw all the kinks and loose ends thatstill need to be sharpend up on the tour.
The first significant impression I have is of just how glorious it is to hear the swirl of their layered guitars again. The sheer sonic bliss of their guitars is their most priceless quality. And the nature of Marty and Peter's roles has truly changed for good since Heyday. Marty is now almost wholly the lead guitarist. For all the attention that Marty gets -- and he got more show-off spotlight time than I've ever seen at a Church show, mugging and romping around all over the stage, doing his squealing, whammy-bar vibrato shtick for much of the show -- Peter is fundamentally crucial to their life as a band. He's the quiet, strong anchor they need.
For the most part they played very well, there were some muck-ups but that's to be expected from a band that rarely tours now and is only three shows into it's current tour. My biggest criticism of the whole show, and I may take some slings and arrows on this from the list, is that Tim Powles is just not the right drummer for them. Many times I felt he was just slightly behind the beat (may sound like an oxymoron, but drummers will know what I mean) and not pushing the songs along. "Reptile" and "You Took" in particular suffered. His fills seemed clunky (for lack of a better word) and on many occasions I was just longing for Richard Ploog's directness.
The set list was exactly the same as was reported from the San Diego show:
1. Aura - Like on the albums, a good dark opener, and I immediately thought that for the first time we'll get to hear how some of P=A sounds live, since the P=A tour never made it out of Oz.
2. Myrrh - A classic, of course, and the oncoming rush of echoey guitars was my first taste of mid-80s vintage Church again. I don't even remember it well, as it was the first song where I kind of lost myself in the moment.
3. An Interlude - In Richard Ploog's days this was a much more tense number, now it's more like a sweet lullabye from a bygone era.
4. Ripple - Felt a little flat to me for some reason, and I can't pinpoint why. It seemed a little gratuitous as "the single" from P=A and I think I'd have preferred something else from that album. But still it was good and interesting to hear.
5. NSEW - How could they not play this in LA? ;-) This one begged for Ploogy again for me, but it was still a great take. Steve played with his phrasing more on this song than on just about any other, maybe as a way of toying with the LA audience. I lost myself in this one as well, drinking in the mesmerizing swirl of guitars.
6. Old Flame - This is the "out of left field" choice of the tour and was indeed a pretty appetizer of sorts.
7. Louisiana - The highlight of the show for me. *Gloriously* chiming, jangley (sp?) guitars and a stately vocal delivery from Steve and Marty. As with "An Interlude", this came off with a positively *regal* bearing, working perfectly in every respect. I only wish Steve had introduced this song as the new single or mentioned the new album, as he did later with "Buffalo", as that may have inspired a greater reaction from the crowd. As it was, with the new album not out yet, I think only us Seancers with HOB knew the song ahead of time. (I still haven't heard it on KROQ or Y107).
8. Hotel Womb - A big crowd pleaser. Steve toyed with the vocals again. I thought they'd really draw out the ending but it ended sooner than I expected. Another heady buzz of guitar pyrotechnics.
9. Grind - More of a crowd pleaser than I expected. I'm surprised they've included it on the tour. Thematically it seems out of place to me, as they're not really "grinding it out" now, they're working as a labor of love and it shows.
10. Buffalo - Steve did his "we have a new album coming out tomorrow" bit before this song and it was very well received.
11. Day of the Dead - Another odd choice for the set list, but engaging none the less. Marty just stood in a spotlight at the edge of the stage and squealed away for the whole song.
12. Under The Milky Way - Of course this is almost obligatory now, yet it feels slightly flat to me. Safe in a "fuzzy warm slippers" kind'o'way.
13. Two Places at Once - I've paid so little attention to SA since it came out that I really had to concentrate on this song as if I'd never heard it before. The song was born of an experiment between Steve and Marty and it still retains a little of that feeling. I can't help but wonder if Peter feels a little awkward while playing SA songs.
14. Almost With You - Just as described from the San Diego show this got a great reaction from the crowd, with people singing along. And again, the band seems to revel in it as well.
15. Reptile - A crowd favorite, yet like I said, fraught with problems. It just did *not* flow like it was supposed to. Marty's echo repeats were off from the original, and since the band takes its rhythmic pulse from that, it made everything in the whole song slightly off. I could hear fundamental rhythmic faults, which may seem like nitpicking to some, considering how popular this song is, but I can't help but feel like their performance was shortchanged and could seriously use some practice by the guys.
1. Destination - A bit of a surprise for me, as it's quite slow and I tend to think of encores being high-energy affairs. Nonetheless, very well done and a big fan favorite.
2. Tantalized - The other major highlight of the show for me. They absolutely *nailed* this. Considering how I was still digesting "Reptile" I was stunned at how easily this came together so well. Marty's the ringleader of the song, as the rest of the band had their eyes firmly fixed on Marty to give cues on when to launch into the verses after the long intro and the middle section.
1. You Took - One of the disappointments of the show for me, although I'm *sure* loads of others enjoyed it perfectly well and I'm almost sorry to disagree, but I couldn't help but compare it past tours. It was not *nearly* as incendiary as in the past. Powles didn't build up the middle section like Ploogy did and the rush back into the verses seemed awkward. Much more than with any other song this one begged for Richard Ploog. I'm especially thinking of the 1986 Fender's Ballroom show in Long Beach (hi Scott!). The fun part was that the audience was singing along during the first verse and Steve said something along the lines of "I'll let all of you sing it".
I'd like to thank Denise marking my birthday with some terrific presents. It was the perfect capper to the evening.
Skip this if you're not a guitar techie type, but I know that some Seancers would be curious. It was one of the oddest guitar/amp setups I've seen them use. Peter had one Vox AC-30, a Fender Twin (I think), which I've *never* seen him use before, and his Leslie cabinet. He used his white Strat for most of the songs, but played a Telecaster on a couple of songs, including "Louisiana", and one of Marty's 12-string Rickenbackers on others. Marty rotated amongst a few nice, hollowbody Ricks and used a solid-body Rick with humbuckers for "Day of the Dead". He had one AC-30 and a Roland JC-120 (I've never seen him use that, although I read that he did while in All About Eve). Both guys had their Ibanez UE-405 effects units, but I couldn't recognized the other stuff in their racks and couldn't see their foot pedals. Steve played his Fender Bass VI for the whole show, which surprised me. Did he sell off *all* of his Coronado basses? I also noticed he didn't move his right arm around much during the night, making me wonder if he's still recuperating from his broken arm. [Brian: I think he broke his left arm.]
Anyway, we were trying to improve a song by adding a sequence, but we would fall away from the sequencer and everybody would get lost. Finally Bruce hooked himself up to a click-track, which is an electronically generated metronomic click tone. To my astonishment, the song meter seemed to vary wildly at first when we added the click, which is an infallible metering device against which one just can't argue. What really happened was that the meter remained constant, and didn't rush when the song reached the chorus, and drag on the verses (we called that the Russian Dragon effect). It had such an impact to the betterment of the song as a whole, we ended up not needing the sequence, and used click track in all of our songs, at least in rehearsal. Live, we would allow ourselves to push the choruses a little, for the exhilaration it provides, but as a rule we would make our best effort to retain a constant meter.
I heard what you heard, the apparent slowing at the chorus of You Took, and when I did, I knew that I was hearing a good drummer playing the actual beat. Ploogie was a flamboyant drummer, fun to watch when he did stuff like knock all his drums over, but in all, I’d rather see the Church play Church songs to a drummer they can rely on than bear witness to the wild gesticulations of a drummer backed up by three guitarists struggling to find the beat.
>know what I mean) and not pushing the songs along. "Reptile" and "You >Took" in particular suffered.
Considering that he had just finished playing "Tantalized", I'm going to give him the break here. Other things that I noticed from where I was standing (next to the soundboard).
-Crap sound for the first four songs. Marty was almost inaudible for the first four songs.
-Peter is an outstanding guitar player. Marty gets all the attention for hopping around on stage and happily playing "the lead guitarist" role, but Peter was quietly playing some amazing runs.
-Steve's "This bass guitar plays by itself. It runs on static electricity" ad lib in either "Day Of The Dead" or "Two Places..." (I forget)
-Introducing "Almost With You" as "This songs dates from the Pleistocene. I wrote it with a pterodactyl."
-More on stage sound problems towards the end. Steve was so frustrated with the mic feedback that he simply gave up at the end of the "You Took"
I won't write a really long essay about the House of Blues show in L.A. (seeing as Misha has done a great job of describing it) other than it was, for me, fantastic, amazing, incredible, brilliant, stunning, moving, wonderful, glorious and any other adjectives you can think of (positive ones!). Yes, they made a few mistakes but my gosh, Steve never looked happier (healthier too I hope - looked like he was drinking Coke) and Marty was simply on fire with his guitar-playing. He was wild and after 13 years I am still in awe of his talent and watching him play guitar is still one of my favorite things in the world to do. He tossed a pick into the audience which no one seemed to notice (or they weren't able to find) and I looked down and found it on the floor and grabbed it.
After the show, (and after 13 years of purposely not seeking out the band to meet them for reasons which I won't go into) I ended up meeting Steve and Marty for the first time (a friend had spent some time with them over the weekend so we went back to their dressing room). After all the 'horror' stories about Steve's moods, I was a little intimidated but he was very pleasant, polite, shook my hand and kindly signed my "Earthed" booklet. I then spoke a little bit to Marty about a poster I had bought from him last year through his auction. Then, when we were waiting for our car outside the club, Marty appeared again. I saw a girl had a permanent marker so I asked him to initial the pick he threw into the audience and he kindly did. I then asked him if the band was having "fun" (don't ask me why I even used the word fun - I rarely do - it just popped into my head) with the new album coming out, and with regards to the fact that they're touring together for the first time in a long time, etc.
Well, the word "fun" kind of seemed to set him off a bit. He said, "Fun? Fun? No, we're not having fun. We wouldn't call it fun; we don't bandy the word "fun" around a lot. There's a lot of emotions in these songs; you don't call emotions "fun", I mean, you don't say 'I love you' and call it "fun." So, sensing a slight bit of weariness in him, I asked him if it had just become work (because if he was just going through the motions onstage then he should get an Oscar) and then he said, "No, it's not work!" and then I said, "Ok, well, are you enjoying yourselves touring again?" and he said (wearily) "we have 50 more shows" and it just appeared to me like he was a bit worn out; I then wished him luck with the rest of the tour. Maybe he was just in a bad mood or really tired. I then said to him that I should have gone to the San Diego show and the Doheny Days show but jokingly said I was too old now to follow the band around and he laughed and said, "Well then you should join the band." A remark on getting older? : / (In the middle of "Grind" Steve inserted the Aerosmith lyric from "Dream On" - 'every night when I look in the mirror, all these lines on my face getting clearer' - or however it goes).
It was overall, a fabulous experience, even if it was a bit strange to finally meet the guys face to face after all these years, gray hairs and all. (My gray and theirs). ; )
Marty had great presence, as usual, and his rock god gyrations have actually gotten better with time. I used to kind of hate that stuff but now, it seems somehow fitting and grounded. Not posturing at all. Steve. Wow. Steve looked like he had put on quite a bit of weight. And, of course, he balanced a mood of bliss and annoyance. He also, oddly enough, was playing his bass lines on the lower strings of a guitar. Does anyone know what that is all about ? [Brian: It's his Fender six-string bass guitar] "Almost With You" was, by far, the highlight for me. The sound, which at times was quite bad, was perfect on this tune. It was perfectly played and transported me to my past.
The past. The future. That's what is so great about The Church. They have a great past and no, with the new record, they could have a great future. I'm a sentimentalist. Today, the day after the show, I find myself fullfilled by their performance and, at the same time, a little sad as I know it will probably be a long before I see them perform again, if ever. It was also a reminder of our mortality, that time does exist. But there are those rare moments where it can stand still, where it can transport you.
1. Aura - A superb opener that allows the sound crew to get the right levels. You hear Marty's lead, then you don't. Steve is not loud enough, then he is. Peter is nowhere in sound, then half way through oh there he is...
2. Myrrh - Great rocker. The crowd responds well here. Better than San Diego. Steve says, "We are back from the dead."
3. An Interlude - Not as good as San Diego, but a great choice.
4. Ripple - Great.
5. NSEW - Not as good as San Diego.The guy next to me spilt his beer in excitement!
6. Louisiana - Not as good as San Diego.
7. Old Flame - A loud room of chatter (annoying) while Steve tries to share a moment.
8. Hotel Womb - Marty didn't rip as long, but a great moment as always.
9. Grind - Awesome.
10. Buffalo - Way, way, way better than San Diego.
11. Day of the Dead - The crowd responded surprisingly well here,
12. Under the Milky Way - "Oh good I know this one" sarcasm here...Steve says playing this song is like seeing your ex-wife after 10 years.
13. 2 Places at Once - Very very good.
14. Almost With You - Steve says, "This one's from the Crustaceous Period. I co-wrote it with a Pterodactyl." An almost flawless rendition and an absolute highlight.
15. Reptile - After this song the band left but the crowd hardly cheered for an encore. They came back to a luke warm reception. Many people from the back actually left (I guess they heard UTMW and wanted to get a rush on the valet parking).
16. Destination - Very, very good.
17. Tantalized - Ripped as always. Someone next to me muttered, "Hey these guys are pretty good!"
18. You Took - Still can't quite end this one right. The crowd again was luke warm. Steve was getting a loud piercing squeal from his mike and asked several times for help with it. Finally, towards the end he backed away from singing in total disgust.
Well, I think that's how it went. I hope I got the song set right. Overall the San Diego show was more memorable for me (a 10!), but many songs at the HOB (a 7 rating) were executed better. I can only imagine how awesome it's going to get for those who get them with more practice. I talked with Marty and he said they'll be doing more songs from the new album as they go along. That's it for now. I am looking forward to reading more reviews.
I got into San Diego Fri afternoon, hopped in my rental car, and experienced first-hand the mess that is California highway driving. Ugh, what a nightmare. But I didn't care much - hell, being that I live in Manhattan, it was the one of the few times I've driven a car in 3 years. Anyway, I proceeded to make my way to Solana Beach where I met up with Marc, a fellow Seancer from the LA area, and his friend Mike. How great it is to meet random people from 3000 miles away on the internet and have them actually be friendly, fun and not murderers.
So we went to the show and it was amazing. It wasn't quite sold out, but you'd never know it from the crowd reaction - it was loud. People were soooooooo psyched to see them back in the US. And they didn't disappoint. What a show. Later I was lucky enough to make my way backstage. Outside, sitting in the back of the club, was Steve, looking totally serene as he was surrounded by about 15 sychophants. It was quite odd, people just standing around him with looks of awe as if he were Baal, or something. Anyway, being one of those people, I introduced myself and found him to be very friendly. We spoke for only a minute or two and I told him that I flew in all the way from NYC to see them. He asked me about Tramps (the club they'll be playing here), as he apparently has never been there. I then proceeded to speak with Marty for a bit. We talked about finding the tapes for the impending solo album, etc. All-in-all, what a great fucking night. We then went back to the hotel and hung out with Paul Vasquez, who was also in town for the show.
The next day I headed up to Dana Point for the Doheny Days festival. It was a beautiful day and I wondered how weird it might be to see The Church in broad daylight. Weird or not, another amazing show, cut short to only an hour, unfortunately. Marty seemed a bit petulant, actually, as he sat on his amp a few times throughout the show, seemingly bored. But he picked it up at the end.
The show in LA was truly great. The House of Blues is a fairly large venue (1500 people or so?) and it was crowded. Once again, people were pumped. The set list was the same (which I found unfortunate) but they kicked it out in a beautiful way. The highlight of the trip was "Tantalized," on this particular night. Marty simply took it to another level. He bashed that guitar and kicked its ass in a ecstatic frenzy. Wow! That's what I've been waiting 11 years to see! Also, before "An Interlude," I believe, I think Steve *actually* said: "This one's from the _pretentious_ period. (pause) I wrote this with a pteradoctyl." Kinda mocking himself with that comment, I believe. Anyway, what an amazing time.
So, I had a great trip. I'm now taking off from work, recovering. Hi to everyone I met out there - it was such a good time. I can't wait for Oct 7,8,9!