Steve Kilbey paused and invited the audience to imagine flipping over a record. Of course, he told The Birchmere, you would have to walk over to it, gently lift it from the turntable, wipe the static away, turn the record over, wipe that pesky static some more, and carefully place your vinyl just so.
In this case, the reward is “Spark,” the first song on Side 2 of Starfish, the hit album by The Church, which Steve has fronted for nearly 40 years. And so, Steve, guitarist Peter Koppes, and the rest of The Church performed Starfish in its entirety for an appreciative sold-out room at The Birchmere recently.
Starfish yielded two of the most recognizable and enduring songs by The Church — “Under the Milky Way” and “Reptile.” Due to the tracklisting, “Under the Milky Way” made a rare appearance at the top of The Church’s set rather than being saved for the end as signature songs usually go. With its easy, spacious melody, “Under the Milky Way” captured the poetic Mr. Kilbey at his finest, bolstering The Church with well-deserved international recognition over the past 30 years.
Equally iconic, “Reptile” drew in The Birchmere with its restless, relentless rhythms, which set a pace that later breaks open into Peter and Steve driving their guitars into a burst of sonic frenzy.
Throughout it all, Steve stood in the middle of the stage, surrounded by Peter to his right and guitarist Ian Haug on his left. Behind him, drummer Tim Powles melted drumbeats into the air while touring multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain (also formerly of the band Remy Zero) expertly worked around the edges and occasionally through the middle to thread the songs together.
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On April 18, The Church took a brief intermission after playing the 10 tracks of Starfish. They returned to perform another set of 10 favorites. Soon, Steve relayed a dream to the audience. He wandered alone through a city along a river and approached a strange hotel. As he walked, he began to recall that he was in Brisbane. Once inside the hotel, Steve approached the bar, where a friend sat, beckoning him. His friend told him the radio was playing his song, and when the radio was turned to maximum volume, Steve finally recognized the song as “Metropolis.”
The Church then performed “Metropolis,” a favorite selection hailing from Gold Afternoon Fix, the band’s 1990 album, released as the followup to Starfish. Throughout the entire second set, Steve continued to hold the center, addressing the audience squarely with is pleasing baritone and hitting his guitar riffs with appropriate swagger. His natural charisma made him an instant frontman, but his poetic chops, quick wit, and squared away demeanor made him a classic — and all of those elements of the man were on display at The Birchmere.
While the second set of songs surely pleased everyone listening, The Church really brought it home in the encore, particularly with “The Unguarded Moment,” a classic lifted from debut record Of Skins and Heart, and “Miami,” a relatively recent standout from 2014’s Further/Deeper. Both songs put the audience at ease, although both address unease in their own way, carrying the power of The Church’s electric psychedelia into our minds.
The Church continue on their US tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Starfish through May 12 in California. It’s an excellent time to see them, whether you’re already a believer in their powerful yet graceful rock or a newcomer to The Church — it is after all a very popular time for new psychedelic and neo-psychedelic bands. The Church remain the leaders atop that field.
Here are some pictures of The Church performing at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia, on April 18, 2019. All photos copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson.
Here are some pictures of The Church performing at Rams Head on Stage in Annapolis, Maryland, on April 17 as well!