The House of Blues is nestled at the foot of the Marina Towers along the river, and from the exterior looks like some nomadic shelter on an alien world--bulbous, gray and graceless. The interior works though--a gaudy, theatrical facade pushing though bad taste into the realm of sheer entertainment value. Tiered balconies, ornate reliefs, and a crazy quilt curtain surrounding a hard wood floor capable of holding a few hundred people.
We staked out a spot about 20 feet back from center stage, and were successful in maintaining the location though trampled regularly by rude people using their bodies as chemical sinkholes.
The show started at 9PM with the first of two opening acts, the Aluminum Group. I assume they were local talent, given the lead singer's request that all those present buy the group's CD so they could relocate to New York (followed by a smattering of laughter from those who were actually listening). The band was well-received, played a 1/2 hour set of guitar driven pop with keyboard effects. The vocals were particularly strong. The lead singer/guitarist mentioned at the opening of the set what an honor it was to open for the Church, and the keyboard player closed the set by noting that the band got to meet the Church backstage and they were all great guys or words to that effect.
After a lengthy delay, the second opening band came on, "Milk & Honey" from Austin, Texas (according to the lead singer, the band had driven 20 hours in a broken down van to get to the concert). They walked on to dead silence and won over a small portion of the audience with their brand of Texas R&B/Stevie Ray Vaughn style boogie. The lead singer had his strutting king rooster/rock star pose down pat, and the band was excellent within its niche. That said, this was an incongruous choice as an opening band for the Church, and their reception was less than warm, leaving the crowd unsatisfied and impatient.
The HOB floor continued to fill (final tally 300-400?), until the Church finally took the stage at around 11:20 PM. Radiotronics blared over the sound system, the curtain parted, the band entered to devoted roars, and the opening swells of "Aura" began. The set list appears to have exactly followed that of the earlier shows, opening with "Aura" and closing with "Reptile," and then followed by two encores, the first consisting of "Destination" and "Tantalized," and the second an incendiary "You Took."
Steve was fixed in the spotlight as he began the disjointed, journal-like ramblings of Aura, his eyes on a point at the back of the room and maintaining that lock for the majority of the evening. He appeared genuine in his gratitude for the crowd's enthusiastic support, and thanked the crowd repeatedly. My wife (an appreciative non-initiate) remarked that he seemed like a class guy, and not at all the typical front man blowhard.
Marty was simply awesome--just a phenomenal guitarist, fully in touch with his instrument and spinning out extraordinary soundscapes.
Peter was evidently Peter, and appeared alternatively indifferent or transported. When the appropriate planets, tunings and sound systems aligned, his coruscating lines intertwined with Marty's frenetic leads and percussive rhythm, and the heavens opened.
Tim Powles was perfect in every regard--he is the heart, soul and gravitational center of this band and let us hope the others continue to revolve around him for many years to come.
Highlights for me included:
"Myrrh"-the second song of the set and for me the first song in the Church cannon that captured what I love so much about the band-- a headlong plummet though words and music to something ineffable but inescapable-a soundtrack to a strange life beneath the light of a drumkit moon.
"Two Places at Once"--a song off of the strong but somehow incomplete "Sometime Anywhere" album, now made whole through Peter's contributions. What a classic, and even if the song did start off as an experiment between Steve and Marty to see if they could depart and arrive over the same chord structure, the melding is complete and perfect. Marty's vocal delivery in particular was impassioned and dead on.
"Grind"--a personal favorite. Steve dropped in the same Aerosmith lift ("every time I look in the mirror, all these lines in my face growing clearer") near the end of the song, just before "the vortex appeared" line.
Few, but present. For me, Peter's sound problems on "Louisiana" and "Buffalo" diminished the songs. On Louisiana he appeared to have a capo well-up the neck of his red telecaster in order to produce the necessary high register backing, but the sound was harsh and discordant and it pulled the song off course and apart for me. I could be wrong but I thought I could see it having the same effect on Steve. Buffalo met a similar fate when Peter switched off to his tele. Regardless, both songs were enthusiastically received, and Peter returned to glory on subsequent outings. Here's hoping the band decides to add "Anesthesia" or "Ricochet" to the set list in the near future.
Gear (for those with an interest):
Steve played a white fender six string bass expertly (no trace of his recent injury [Brian: Steve broke his left arm in August] to my eyes), and produced surpassingly delicate guitar like arpeggios, notably on "Old Flame".
Marty alternated between a red sunburst Rickenbacker 12 string with toaster top pickups and a strange fixed bridge (not the usual "R" or trapeze tail piece usually seen on Ricks), and a black 12 string Rick with toaster tops--was this the Roger McGuinn 370 model?
Peter alternated between a white strat, a red telecaster, and Marty's black Rick (on "Grind" I think). He made effective use of the E-bow on UTMW in particular.
I don't know enough about drum kits to comment intelligently or otherwise about Tim's set up, except to say everything was used with expert effect.
Almost none, although Steve thanked the crowd repeatedly and did seem genuinely grateful for the emotional and enthusiastic acceptance of the many true fans. Steve did croon the obligatory hook of "Chicago, Chicago" and then humorously added the song's non sequitur "I saw a man dance with his wife...". He later thanked the crowd and said "You're a lovely audience....well, some of you are." He introduced UTMW as "the one cover version we do."
Finally, Steve in response to the audiences call for an encore, walked out in stiff-legged zombie fashion, arms held straight out in front of him (1st or 2nd encore?--I forget).
As "You Took" cascades to its furious psychedelic close, Peter detunes his low E string to get a droning conclusive tone, Marty goes to his knees and props his Rick against his amp, twisting knobs in an attempt to drain the last few decibels of feedback. Band exits right to thunderous applause. Peter tosses his pick out into the crowd. Marty spits his pick into the crowd and strides off, waves all around.
While it is somewhat depressing that a band as unique and exciting as the Church is not accepted on a greater scale at this time of its musical existence, I'm very appreciative of the fact that because of this fact, I was able to see the group up close in such a relatively small venue, and wildly recommend you do the same.
Probably like a lot of fans seeing the Church for the first time, my life feels a bit more complete. Thanks, and I hope you have or will be able to experience the band live as well.
overall, this was the best i've ever seen them play. talking to marty after the show and reflecting on his performance i have a lot of admiration for him... as he put it, he simply just loves playing and going all out, and he really did that during this show. i really didn't think he was ever going to stop... during the finale encore he starting messing with the amp, creating a wave of crazy feedback and twiddling with the knobs... but eventually peter plopped down his guitar and the rest of the band walked off, marty following. when i told marty that it looked as if he didn't want to stop playing, he commented "oh ya, i could play all night." he was still very wound up after the show. (btw, security was insane at this place, house of blues, to a very ridiculous level and at one point marty was told he had to leave the premises as he didn't have a backstage pass! of course, this only prompted him to toy with the security guard, putting on a little show as we went back to round up some more fans that wanted to go backstage. unfortunately, security had already kicked everyone out.) pete was pete... laid back and sedate.
the place was nearly packed and the crowd seemed really geared up for the band. (that afternoon, a local radio station did a short interview and live acoustic session with steve and marty... they played 'louisianna' and 'buffalo' and a crack a few jokes about the title of the album. this no doubt brought in some more people to the show.) but i don't know if i made this clear... these guys were lighting that place up. it seemed like steve pretty much lead the show in san diego, but marty was pulling strings in chicago. tantalized, the second to last encore was like being in the middle of an ethereal warzone. tim asked what i thought the down point of the show was, but quite honestly, i couldn't think of anything except that i thought it looked as if he might not make it through the very marty-influenced extented intro to 'tantalized'. he laughed (he was waiting for steve's cue and steve was waiting on marty's cue and was just jammin' out in his own high speed strummin' world.) but nonetheless, tim didn't miss a beat. simply brilliant.
my guess (i don't know where you're seeing them) is that barring wear and tear on the road and the occassion bad show (which tim mentioned one, somewhere on the west coast), these guys are going to continue to improve and add more heat to each song. *whew* sorry for the ramble, but it was truly a great show. you're going to love it when you see them. - tk
I arrived ridiculously early to guarantee myself good seating and saw Pete and Tim entering the venue just after I arrived. Pete seemed serene and calm, Tim walking with a bit of spring in his step and a smile on his face. However, they were flanked by roadies discussing the equipment set-up, I figured it was not a good time to interrupt so Pete could sign my Manchild + Myth tape. I arrived early enough to hear them doing the soundcheck. They only played the first half of each song (that they tested), playing a lively "NSEW", followed by "Two Places At Once","Aura", and "Myrrh."
The 2 opening acts were The Aluminum Group and Milk N' Honey. The Aluminum Group were a respectable 60's type pop band that played gentle Burt Bacharach- type songs, at least that's what I thought. The keyboard player was a very attractive woman and she was gettin' down with a Moog!!! NOW, regarding the 2nd opening act, Milk N' Honey, if anyone gets to speak to the Church soon, please apologize to them on my behalf for booking such a horrible, horrible opening act. Milk N' Honey were a cheesy, rip-off southern rock band with a singer who was equal parts Jim Morrison, Jon Bon Jovi and Billy Ray Cyrus. The unintentional comic novelty of their singer wore off after 2 songs.
The Church took the stage - it's hard to talk about much of the show without giving away a FEW of the songs, but I won't mention openers, closers or encores. To add to some previous comments regarding their age - Marty's face does look remarkably wrinkle-free with only a few strands of grey and the band as a whole looks quite young as well. Steve's beard was partly grey which gave off the image of the benign college professor who turns out to be the devil. Marty alternated between a gorgeous black Rick 12-string, the red "Reptile" Rick 6-string and a Takamine 12-string for the acoustic stuff. Marty was clad in maroon leather boots, black pants and a navy blue shirt (they all wore very stylish leather boots). Steve wore a black velvet shirt and white jeans and although a little paunch showed through the shirt the noticeable weight gain was in Steve's fingers... he's got chubby hands! Steve played a white, Fender VI 6-string bass with visibly thin strings which produced a surprsingly crisp, heavy sound. Peter played a cream Strat for most of the night, also playing a white or black Tele for a few songs and Marty's black 12-string for "Grind". Tim bashed away with the fury of a madman, giving many of the songs new life not heard on record, espially "Day Of The Dead."
The show was air-tight, performed wonderfully and fabulously, all that seemed to be missing was the guys themselves. They all played with blank, poker faces expect for Marty sharing a few smiles with Tim or Peter now and again. This clearly was Marty's show, Marty did most of the solos and worked the crowd properly with his gyrating and jumping, getting a laugh from Steve with his theatrics, and resting only twice from guitar-god frenzy for a cigarette and a little Samuel Adams. Steve contained his dialogue mostly to thank you's and backed away from the mic stand only to close his eyes in midst of solos and outros. Pete, seeming a bit tired and in need of a hairbrush, spent most of the evening studying the floor. "Milky Way" was introduced as "the only cover song we do," and featured a great e-bow solo from Pete. While playing the feedback outro to "Day Of The Dead", Marty was hunched over his pedal-effects board with a dropped, locked jaw that could have indicated he was in the midst of some aural / musical orgasm. "Grind" was slightly altered with Marty doing nice appreggios to the opening. Unfortunately, a little problem was that Steve couldn't be heard too well, his evil baritone is hard to appreciate live. But for me, when you're looking straight up at Steve and mouthing all the words along with him in emotional esctacy, you don't really notice!!! "Ripple" sent me into spasms once I heard the opening chords and it was performed flawlessly, sounding almost identical to the record save for Peter's vocals drowned out by the guitars. The crowd didn't hesitate one bit to send in requests: Richocet, Texas Moon, Bel-Air, Roman, Glow-Worm, and Louisiana. A lot of people were requesting Essence for some reason. Standing right in front of Steve, I thought my cries for Columbus and Chaos might get noticed, but all our pleas went unanswered, except for the very last encore (no surprise if you've been reading the set lists). The intro to "Tantalized" was especially long and heavy-sounding, Tim pounded away like a banshee while Marty stood the edge of the stage, aiming his Rick at the audience like a rifle and banging out muted chords giving off the sound of a helicopter swooping over our heads. I was so glad to see such a wide variety of different people at the show. All in all, their blank stares and Steve's formal stage banter tell me they probably won't come back to America. Sad. But that's OK, I got to see them twice, and for me those 2 shows and all their albums are enough memories to last me for a lifetime. Thank you Steve, Marty, Peter and Tim for a rare and unbelievable show!!!!
SOUNDCHECK: (They only played the first half of each song for soundcheck, I thought I heard the opening chords to Glow-Worm for a second or two.)
Two Places At Once (Marty wasn't that audible)
Aura (Drowned out entirely by the keyboards)
Aura (No subtlely here, when the instrumental break first came,Marty ripped right into it.)
Myrrh (Marty plays the main riff, Pete does the muted harmonics.)
Ripple (Very solid, sounded almost identical to the record.)
Old Flame (Excellent 6-string bass work intertwined w/ Peter + Marty.)
Buffalo (Both Pete + Marty were pumping those chord progressions with fury, guess they get exited when playing the new stuff.)
Day Of The Dead (Marty's feeback outro was incredible, he seemed to be having an orgasm or something, hunched over his effects board, jaw dropped.)
Milky Way (Steve introduced this as "The only cover song we do." Pete did a nice e-bow solo.)
Two Places At Once
Almost With You (Solo by Pete.)
Reptile (Marty played this without the U2-delay effect like on the record, this tempo was normal, they played it real fast on the GAF tour.)
ENCORE I : Destination ("It's not a religion, it's just a technique / It's just a way of making me freak...out")
Tantalized (2-3 minute intro with choppy, helicopter-sounds from Marty and now-or-never drumming.)
ENCORE II: You Took (Pete's best moment and one of his few solos: shredding his guitar, non-stop finger work, spiraling all up and down the fretboard. Then Marty tried to shred his Rick and the amps - literally - with feedback heaven. He rubs the guitar, face down, against the floor for effect, twisting all the knobs on his equalizer, then shoving the guitar across the floor where it stops dead at Steve's feet, Steve's responds with a confused smile, and follows Tim + Pete offstage while Marty twiddles with amp knobs for another minute or two.)
Something to note... Some other people at the front were complaining that they couldn't hear Steve's vocals, Peter's guitar, etc. depending on where they were standing. You have to remember that the sound on the stage is different than what the audience is hearing.... At the front of the stage, you are hearing a little of the vocals through reflections from the monitors (since they face the performers and not the audience), and not from the house speakers. If you are standing in front of an amplifier, like I was with Marty, you are going to hear mostly his guitar. It is not the sound guy's fault. Now if you were in the middle of the club and couldn't hear vocals, then you probably have a valid complaint.
Anyway, I can die happy now. I have been to a church show. i also bought a tee shirt. if you ask my fiancee, she will try to convince you that it is hers.