It's the end of October 97 and the end of organised religion as we know it. A sold-out Metro theatre in Sydney watches in awe as the Church play a stunning farewell performance. It sprawls and crashes for nearly three hours, digging back to their 1981 debut and expertly polishing a Pope's ransom in sparkling, jangling gems from a nine-album career.
"It was just too fucking good," Steve Kilbey sighs, back at the pulpit to flog their tenth, Hologram of Baal. "After we finished everyone demanded that we stay together. It was as simple as that."
The Metro was by no means the Church's first goodbye. The peaks and troughs of this fragile/indestructable 18-year-old institution have been exhilarating and dire. As ringleader, bass player and random image generator between the astrally-colliding guitars of Peter Koppes and Marty Willson-Piper, Steve Kilbey knows it.
Baal's predecessor, Magician Among the Spirits, was "a load of tripe," he says. 1990's Gold Afternoon Fix, the LA fabricated album tailored to capitalise on the mainstream crossover of "Under the Milky Way" (it didn't), was "hideous". The Church's debut hit and signature tune, "Unguarded Moment", was dishonourably retired from the stage in 88.
Still, the band's victories remain peerless. Ensconced in Kilbey's "formidable" file are their second LP, The Blurred Crusade (82), tripping-pop masterpieces Heyday (86) and Starfish (88), and the epic Priest=Aura (92). What's more, Kilbey confidently predicts that their next album will be the Church's "holy grail".
"Things have been random and ridiculous 'cause we never seem to be strong or cohesive enough to grab control over our destiny", he says. "But the uniting thing with the Church has always been the desire to make extraordinary music together. Yes, we've often failed. Girls and drugs and geography and everything else have gotten in the way but it's still the thing we crave when we get together: let's do something absolutely amazing".
The drug issue alone is worth a chapter in Church-lore. "Let me put it this way", Kilbey says carefully. "We strive to put people into a certain state, and drugs are probably another way of getting into that state. The acid experience. The revelatory experience. The transcending experience. Obviously we're a great band for people who smoke pot and drop mushrooms but i don't think that it's a prerequisite that you take drugs to enjoy the Church and the drug use among other members of the Church has been very over-estimated. I don't think there's been much acid dropped over the years."
Reports of chemically-related strife aside, it was girls and geography that dictated last year's farewell, when Kilbey left Sydney to be with his six-year-old twin daughters in Stockholm. Willson-Piper has split his time between London and the Swedish capital for most of the band's career. Prodigal cornerstone Koppes - he resigned in 92 and returned last year - still lives in Sydney, as does relative newcomer Tim Powles, the band's third recorded drummer.
Juiced-up by the Metro gig, the quartet entered Kilbey's Darlinghurst studio late last year to create Hologram of Baal and hence the popular renaissance which summoned the Church to the USA in September, with Europe and Australia to follow. Even the critics, it seems, dig Baal - and radio be damned.
"Look, man, we're gonna be around longer than Triple J", Kilbey scoffs.
"We are gonna be around longer than any of the people who write about us
or criticise us or who do or do not play our records. We've transcended
all that. We've locked onto something, we're off chasing our own rainbow.
"I hope we get good reviews, I hope people like us, but we're a worldwide phenomenon. We're as big in Amsterdam as we are in Sydney. We are what we are, there's nobody else like us and there's nobody who can do what we do. We're entering the realm of Leonard Cohen and Neil Young here. We're getting into untouchable territory".