The Church, live at the Armory in Somerville, April 21, 2010
The night's entertainment was, as they say, high concept: on the eve of their 30th anniversary, Aussie new wave lifers The Church played 23 songs, one from each of their albums, in reverse chronological order, beginning with last year's Untitled #23 and ending with 1980's self-titled debut (in the U.S., it was eventually released as Of Skins and Heart). At a certain point, singer/bassist Steve Kilbey seemed to almost snap: as he introduced a song, mentioning the title and the album that it came from, the applause he elicited gave him pause: "Well, I guess I don't really need to play the song-- we'll just announce the song and you guys can clap and then I'll announce the next one, and we'll all get out of here a lot quicker!"
Thankfully for us, Kilbey didn't follow through on his sarcastic threat, and we were treated down a winding and wobbly trek down the band's storied history. They cheated a little though, as early hits "Reptile" and the utterly gorgeous "The Unguarded Moment" were dispatched with early in the set (ostensibly because versions of those songs appeared on a pair of late 00's acoustic albums)-- but it really was astounding the way that the song selection displayed the band's amazing diversity of material, from the avant-gard quivering of "Louisiana" (from 1999's Hologram of Baal) to the soft crooning of a tune like "Appalatia" (from 2004' Forget Yourself).
The sense you got, watching the band unfurl gorgeous acoustic versions of tune after tune, was almost fatigue: most bands of their stature, 30 years on, have been milking the same ten to fifteen tracks for the last several decades. The Church never went that route, instead churning out new material that constantly required a nearly annual re-assessment of exactly what kind of band this is. The result has probably hurt the band, financially and in terms of popularity, as they have gone from the heights of a worldwide hit single like 1988's "Under The Milky Way" (which the band somewhat begrudgingly ran through tonight) to a steady stream of challenging albums put out on a series of uber-indie labels. But really, who cares, when their struggle is our reward, with a bounty of incredible tunes to lose yourself in.
In revisiting older material, much of the between-song banter involved near-bitterness of their alleged lack of success: whether it was the admission that one label of theirs in the early 80's had the choice to promote either their new album or Loverboy's (one can only guess which band won out in that A&R battle of the headbands) or the rueful introduction of "Tear It All Away", from their 1980 debut, as "a song from our debut album that never got released here". The truth, though, is it's hard to feel sorry for them when they are still able to play such a solidly packed set in such a gorgeous setting to an ecstatically grateful stateside audience. As guitarist Marty Willson-Piper brought the final song to an absolutely thrilling finish, all one could do was clap and hope that they'll continue to plug away at it-- although you know that these guys will keep making music until they no longer have fingers to strum guitars or voices to sing with.
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