Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Perfumed Guitars and Perfection: The Church Shines in Boston

Photo by Hugh Stewart

The Church is the best band in the world right now.

If you’re tempted to dismiss the above statement as mere attention-seeking hyperbole from an overzealous journo still buzzing from witnessing an awesome gig, please indulge me long enough to read this review.

First, I fully acknowledge how outrageous my “best band in the world right now” tag must seem to the unenlightened. After all … I’m saying this about The Church? From the ’80s? A band from Australia that last had a (semi) hit in America in 1990? A band that spent decades in indie purgatory after its last major label album (1992’s criminally underrated Priest=Aura) failed to capture the public’s imagination at the height of Grunge? A band that doggedly soldiers on in 2024 with only one original member in tow following years of personnel upheaval?

While any combination of these factors would normally be a recipe for irrelevance, bassist/singer Steve Kilbey continues to keep the ball in the air despite the (seemingly final) departures of beloved guitarists Marty Willson-Piper and (for a second time) Peter Koppes (gone since 2013 and 2020, respectively). The two albums released since Kilbey took the reins—2023’s The Hypnogogue and this year’s breathtaking Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars—are the finest things the band has done since its late ’80s commercial peak and stand as proof that he made the right decision by keeping the train rolling in the absence of his former cohorts.

The Church’s June 21 performance at the Royale in Boston was one of those classic concerts that seemed to fly by in an instant. Expertly holding the crowd’s attention throughout its lengthy set, the band (Kilbey, long-serving drummer-turned-percussionist Tim Powles, drummer Nicholas Meredith, and the guitar triple shot of Ian Haug, Ashley Naylor, and Jeffrey Cain) was intent on living in the here and now rather than winning over an audience by simply rehashing past glories. Although the sextet played two songs each from 1982’s The Blurred Crusade, 1988’s Starfish, and 1990’s Gold Afternoon Fix (and opened with "Myrrh" off 1985's Heyday), it largely devoted the evening to showcasing some of its best material from just the past two years. It was an incredibly ballsy move for a 44-year-old band that never quite stormed the American charts to make at a Friday night gig in Boston, but here’s the beautiful thing about The Church: If you’re at one of its shows, you get it no matter what they’re playing. Even after decades and dozens of albums, the group’s signature sound—which never fails to simultaneously chill and comfort—remains intact. Some may argue this point, but in my never-humble opinion, there’s no such thing as the definitive Church lineup. There’s simply The Church—and this current incarnation more than lives up to the band’s legacy.

Of course, no show by The Church would be complete without the inevitable inclusion of “Under the Milky Way,” which sounded even more sublime thanks to the Royale’s acoustics. Of course, Kilbey will have to sing that song until the day he dies. While that’s not a bad thing by any means (after all, the song will always touch the hearts of many), I couldn’t help but notice how basic it sounded among the band’s more complex and multidimensional current material. Unlike most bands, The Church has never once slowed its sonic evolution—making the difference between “Under the Milky Way” and The Hypnogogue as striking as the one between “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I can’t think of another veteran act on Earth whose modern work outclasses its biggest hit—and I can’t think of another band currently touring the U.S. that’s worth seeing more than this one.

The Church

Video Interview with Steve Kilbey: