Thursday, July 2, 2009

Come and Be Healed! THE CHURCH at Ram's Head

THE CHURCH – Ram’s Head Onstage – Annapolis, MD 06/30/09 – I could go one of two ways here. I could take the first approach and act like I know what the hell I’m talking about when it comes to THE CHURCH. I could say I know all about these guys, act like I’ve been a fan for years, know all their shit and sound like the big-man writer I sometimes think I am. Or I could tell the truth. Let’s opt for the latter and get this show on the road, shall we?

Australia’s THE CHURCH was one of those bands I heard of for years but never really “heard,” if you know what I mean. I saw their records, I noticed magazine articles and I was aware of people talking about ‘em. For some reason, however, I never checked ‘em out. Why? I have no fucking idea. Maybe I thought they were Bible beaters. Maybe I confused them with Lords Of The New Church? Maybe I thought they were relatives of METAL CHURCH and, hell, those guys only had one good album. At any rate, I had my first real musical brush with these cats by way of Celtic rock faves, Seven Nations. I’d bought their “Big Dog” disc and after a perusing of the tray card, noticed that one of the songs was a cover of “Under The Milky Way” by…you guessed it, THE CHURCH. I made a mental note to check out something by them, really digging the song as though I did but you know what happens with shit like that, right? You end up with other things going on, the toilet clogs up, you go to work 100 times, you watch a few ball games, get 40 more CD’s and forget the whole damn thing. Then one day a few months back I’m at Value Village (a thrift store in Baltimore) and thumbing thru a shoebox of CD’s, I see one called “Priest = Aura” by…yup…THE CHURCH. Ok, 2 bucks, I can do that. I take the disc home, play it and it’s pretty damn cool! Kinda spacey rock, sometimes harder than others, with a decidedly atmospheric edge, thoughtful yet insistent vocals, perceptive lyrics and some real interesting layered guitar. Hmm…I’m likin’ it. I make a mental note to grab some more of their stuff and the next thing you know, bowling chum Rick & Roll tells me he’s got an extra ticket for a show at Ram’s Head in Annapolis…THE CHURCH! Yeah, I’ll definitely check that out and in the couple weeks before, I pick up the band’s latest disc, “Untitled # 23.” I listen to this one and really begin to dig these guys more. Flowing together into a long suite of songs, this is rock that’s loaded with atmosphere, at times subtle and yet very powerful. And such interesting guitarwork. Two guys who work together and yet are playing completely separate things, letting them fold together as one full, rich sound.

And so, there I am at Ram’s Head on June 30, right up front and face to face with an opening band who’s name I never heard and who, unfortunately struck me as very flat. These guys had a style that, occasionally hit me as CHURCH-light and yet, a couple times oddly swerved into a ‘60’s British Invasion style that was a bit jarring with the rest. Add to it that they had precious little personality onstage and I was more than ready for them to take their leave & bring the headliners on. Not that I was completely sure what to expect. Again, I ain’t gonna lie…I’m a complete newcomer to THE CHURCH and barely was familiar with ‘em on record, much less in the live format.

I have to say, what came when this band took the stage was a very, very pleasant surprise. For beginners, the minute bassist/lead vocalist Steve Kilbey came on and began laying down the business on his bass, I knew these guys rocked harder than I’d expected. Right off the bat, and throughout the set, Kilbey played like a monster, finger-picking his bass in super-organic style and holding court onstage with a demeanor as confident, at-ease and friendly as Johnny Cash & Lemmy at a midnight poker game. I liked Kilbey a lot, right away. He is a rocker, through and through and yet one who doesn’t mind letting his emotions come through in his lyrics and vocal delivery. Reminded me of the late, great Phil Lynott in that regard. Drummer Tim Powles impressed me also. Not just laying down a rhythm, Powles also laced the songs with a nice bevy of fills but went the distance by adding in other percussive flair, playing his snare with a tambourine at one point, for instance. Then I had to focus on guitarists Marty Wilson-Piper and Peter Koppes. The former reminded me visually of a guy I may have sat next to at a Dead show many years back, stringy grey hair & gigantic beard. The latter struck me as a much thinner Brad Garrett with curly hair. Interesting to eyeball these cats, but far more so to listen. Wilson-Piper would be blasting out jagged chords on his Fender Mustang, all the while Koppes was painting layers of sinewy leads on a white Strat and it all made perfect sense. Even cooler were the times that Wilson-Piper and Kilbey would take turns trading the guitar, bass & acoustic guitar and Koppes whipped out his brand new baritone guitar (an instrument I've been wanting to hear live) to summon forth some truly haunting tones.

Like I said, I am not gonna lie. I have not been a life-long fan of THE CHURCH. Hell, up until a few months ago, I barely knew who the hell they were. But picking up those couple discs over the past few months got me interested. Then seeing them weave a helluva tapestry of truly progressive and deeply powerful guitar-driven magic at The Ram’s Head a couple nights ago, I’m joining the congregation!

(Steve Kilbey photo by Susan Bacerra)


rick and roll said...

That was a cool ass show! It was worth the late night. As Adrian Belew said "I wish you were here to see it"! The woman who took the picture, is that the one that sat at the table with us? See you Sunday...

The RIpple Effect said...

Welcome to the Church. It's a great place to be. Check out Heyday, it's one of their best.