The Church mesmerize Rough Trade NYC Brooklyn, NY 3-14-15

The Church mesmerize Rough Trade NYC Brooklyn, NY 3-14-15

From Sydney, Australia, The Church has been morphing their style for over three decades now. Originally considered part of the New Wave movement back in the 1980s, The Church has seen a variety of changes to their lineup and sound, but have always stayed true to their thoughtful poetic lyrics and shimmering guitar work. While most in the mainstream would recognize the band from the gold selling 1988’s album Starfish, The Church has built a strong, dedicated following through the years, all while resisting the temptation to create more Pop friendly music. Now celebrating the 35th anniversary since their formation, The Church return with their 25th overall studio album entitled Further/Deeper. Lead by original vocalist/bassist Steve Kilbey and guitarist Peter Koppes, long-time drummer Tim Powles, as well as newest guitarist Ian Haug, formerly of Powderfinger, the band’s first new album in over five years can best be describe as moody, dark, and compelling Rock-n-Roll.

Now in 2015, in support of Further/Deeper, as well as the milestone anniversary, The Church returned to North America for a month long tour which began in Vancouver, BC on February 21st. Fortunately for New Yorkers, the band decided to treat the city that never sleeps to two consecutive shows, one on Friday March 13th at Bowery Ballroom in Manhattan, and the second on Saturday the 14th across the bridge in Brooklyn at Rough Trade NYC. Marking their first visit to New York since 2011’s Future Past Perfect Tour, anticipation was riding high for their return, all while curiosity ran wild trying to figure out what this unpredictable act would offer as far as song selection. On the second night of their stay in New York, a relentless rain storm did not damper the mood as fans packed into the theater of Rough Trade NYC beyond the doors of the venues record shop.

Opening the show was New York City based band The Sharp Things. Together now since 1995, the band has been lead by singer/songwriter/pianist Perry Serpa, joined by  Jim Santo, Michelle Caputo, Aisha Cohen, Andrea Dovalle, James Pertusi, Adrienne Day, and Steve London. Proud to be a New York based act, playing in their home borough of Brooklyn, and opening for The Church, the band moved through a smooth set of original Pop tunes that were laced with Soul undertones. Dedicating their song “Big” to long-time drummer Steve Gonzalez, whom passed away back in September 2014, was moving for not only the band on stage, but those in the audience. Gonzalez fortunately did work on the band’s recent four-album series, and the final chapter is due out sometime in April 2015.

Following a brief set change, the floor of Rough Trade NYC was packed tight, while the balcony had every inch of railing draped with fans looking over, waiting for The Church’s arrival. Saturated in a soothing blue light, each member walked onto the stage to a wave of cheers as they began their set with “Is This Where You Live” from their 1981 debut album Of Skins and Heart, before going into new songs “Delirious” and “Laurel Canyon.”  Creating an atmosphere full with lush vibrant guitar tone, the combined work of Koppes and Haug in their respective corners of the stage was intense and remarkably crafted. Matched with the precise timing of Powles on drums and the thick keystrokes/bass/guitar of Craig Wilson tucked away in the backdrop, the emotive vocals of Kilbey lead the way as the set moved forward quickly with the band marrying their old and new songs together. With back catalogue pieces such as “You Took,” “Operetta,” Myrrh,” along with newbie “Toy Head” followed by the captivating “Vanishing Man,” the band were on a role and brought a cohesive performance to the fans.

Kilbey, a seemingly mellow man, conversed with the audience any chance he had, cracking jokes and enjoying himself. Conserving moments of heightened excitement for the music, Kilbey was a force of raw emotional energy, often closing his eyes and losing himself in the songs which was vividly displayed on “Metropolis” before he totally gave his body and voice to 2003’s “Sealine” and 1992’s haunting “The Disillusionist.”  Adding a layer to the already tranquil escape from the chaos that lay in the street’s of reality, “Old Flame” flowed like liquid into “Lightning Water,” and the distorted guitar tune “Block.” Already having played over an hour and covering a generous portion of music, The Church went into their iconic hit “Under the Milky Way.” Bringing the song to life with equal passion as all those before, the audience applauded with great appreciation before “Miami” closed out the performance. The hum of the continuous cheering all of a sudden gave way to The Church returning for an encore commenced by 2006’s “Day 5” before a fan-favorite “Reptile.” As one of the most distinctive guitar tracks of the ’80s, the extended rendition of the song was a fantastic natural high for the audience that capped off the night with a flare.

The Church prove thirty-five years later that they are a gift to behold in the grand landscape of music. They have withstood the ever changing world around them while keeping artistic integrity and building an even stronger fan-base along the way. Their performance at Rough Trade NYC was a perfect eighteen song escape into their music with plenty of peaks and valley. The addition of Haug in place of Marty Willson-Piper on guitar has not interrupted The Church’s chemistry, and each musician shined bright individually, as well as a unified band, throughout their performance. Now fans wonder when the beloved act will return to North American soil again, perhaps for a 40th anniversary tour? One can only hope, and judging by the powerful songs on Further/Deeper, The Church still have plenty left to offer, and then some.

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Frank Malerba
frank@crypticrock.com
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