The Church perform at The Birchmere on April 4, 2023. (Photos by Jason Nicholson; words by Mickey McCarter)
It’s the year 2054, and one of the era’s biggest rock stars suffers from writer’s block. But he’s heard of a machine created by a Korean scientist that can produce fully formed music in the head of an artist, so he travels to Korea to enter the machine.
Welcome to The Hypnogogue, the name of said mythic machine and also a wondrous new concept album by Australian psych rockers The Church. Frontman Steve Kilbey and his crew toured in support of the album in a recent sold-out show at The Birchmere, and the audience absolutely loved everything they heard.
Make no mistake: The Church dedicated about a third of their concert at The Birchmere on April 4 to the new album, released in February via Communicating Vessels, and every person in the house was absolutely astounded at the brilliance of what they heard. Steve and his band wove the songs into a 22-song set in a way that seemed utterly natural, providing plenty of room for The Church’s back catalog to shine and breathe as well.
As the show progressed, Steve narrated parts of The Hypnogogue story, and he seemed to truly relish the opportunity to act as guide and storyteller throughout the evening. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve seen the man more cheerful! Early in the show, The Church played the song “No Other You” from the new album, and Steve introduced it with part of the tale of how our rock star, named Eros Zeta, falls for Sun Kim Jong, the woman who invented The Hypnogogue, which itself is a maze one enters rather than a device placed on the head or the like.
The beautifully relaxed song was unapologetically proggy, and it finely incorporated The Church’s penchant for psychedelic guitar fills.
Watch the official music video for “No Other You” by The Church on YouTube:
As the story continued, Eros Zeta enters the Hypnogogue and afterward returns to his hotel full of inspiration. He then instantly spins a song about this experience — a song titled “The Hypnogogue.” The Church performed this title track at the start of the middle section of the show on Tuesday, and by this point, the band have completely mesmerized the full house.
The new music was fantastic, and it made strong and intelligent use of Kilbey’s assured but gentle vocals and his bandmate’s extraordinary instrumental talents.
Watch the official music video for “The Hypnogogue” by The Church on YouTube:
For this USA tour, The Church consists of mastermind star and bassist Steve Kilbey, guitarist Ian Haug, guitarist Ashley Naylor, keyboardist and guitarist Jeffrey Cain, and drummer Nicholas Meredith — the latter filling in for Tim Powles, who faced a visa delay. The band clearly enjoyed themselves and played remarkably well as a unit throughout the entire show, high on the knowledge that they were doing very good work for a highly receptive audience.
The story of The Hypnogogue faded as the show neared its end, and Steve hinted at what our main rockstar character may have lost — a dear friend who wanders into the machine with him and doesn’t return for one but also really perhaps himself? For our show, one of the closing concept songs was “C’est La Vie,” a song from the perspective of Eros Zeta’s manager, who warned the musician not to enter The Hypnogogue and watches as his good advice is tossed aside.
If the cautionary tale and very concept of The Hypnogogue sounds a bit like a Ziggy Stardust idea conceived by David Bowie, well, that’s no accident. Early in the show, Steve shared a recollection of how he played David Bowie songs in an Australian tribute shortly after the musician’s death. During the experience, Kilbey said Bowie visited his bedroom in a dream, and The Church vocalist told him something along the lines of, “I’m sorry that I’m singing your songs,” and dream Bowie responded, “Don’t be, I cannot sing them now.”
The tribute show surely planted some seeds in Steve’s head, and out of that inspiration he spun the saga of The Hypnogogue, following in the Stardust footsteps. And as much as the audience was thoroughly entranced by the new material, rest assured Kilbey and company delivered with fan-favorites as well — and they performed gems like “Under the Milky Way,” honored by Steve for its inclusion in the 1989 Miami Vice episode “Asian Cut.”
The Church are in rare form, and the band have only two more USA tour dates this weekend before they return to Australia. If you don’t catch them this month, know they will return and they will return strong, undoubtedly soon.
Here are some photos of The Church performing at The Birchmere on April 4, 2023. All pictures copyright and courtesy of Jason Nicholson.