The Church: A Psychedelic Symphony

First and foremost: they deserve this. After 30 years of developing such a rich, lush catalogue of music, from 1981’s Of Skins and Heart to 2010’s Deadmans Hand EP, The Church deserve to be onstage at the magnificent Sydney Opera House Concert Hall. They also deserve the backing of the equally magnificent 67-piece George Ellis Orchestra, many of whom weren’t born until well into the band’s career. And they also deserve to have this concert filmed for an upcoming DVD and (we are promised) a TV special in the not too distant future. And maybe even a live album, if drummer Tim Powles has his way.

So, after settling into our seats shortly after 7.30pm, and perusing the glossy souvenir program given to each audience member, we see George Negus come onstage to reprise his 2010 ARIA role and introduce The Church. A short orchestral version of Metropolis follows, then the band arrives to rapturous applause, Steve Kilbey bringing up the rear. The band launches into 2003’s Sealine, which quickly sets the pace and tone of the entire show: lush with strings and woodwind instruments swirling through each song, easily delivering the sonic enhancements that this show promised. The band is tight, yet spaced out across the stage. They have played these songs before. Supported by an extra double bass, keyboards and “The Churchettes”, two backup singers from the band’s entourage, the band are able to concentrate on their own roles and sound even better than they do on record. Lost follows, then Almost With you, Anchorage and Pangaea from their 2009 album Untitled #23 (which yields five songs tonight, dispelling any suggestions of pure nostalgia in the setlist). Marty Wilson-Piper and Tim then move to the timpanis at the rear of the stage for a totally revamped version of The Unguarded Moment, breathing some welcome freshness into this radio staple. Then comes the first of four tracks from 1985’s Heyday offered tonight: Myrrh, a sonic masterpiece and instant high point of this concert. Peter Koppes then delivers Never Before from 2005’s Uninvited, Like the Clouds, which builds into another orchestral/rockin’ wonder. Grind closes the first half of the show, further demonstrating the interplay between band and orchestra. They have been working on this project for four long years and it certainly showed.

After a 20 minute intermission – what else would you expect from a show at the Opera House – the bells were again rung and the audience quickly took their seats. The orchestra came back out, wearing brightly coloured clothes (they were in black for the first half), and gave us the instrumental Happy Hunting Ground in its entirety. This was very close to the original 1985 version, but somehow sounded special tonight. Must have been the surroundings, but it seemed just ‘right’. Then came a surprising cover of Mr Guy Fawkes, from 1969’s Dave Miller Set, a jingly-jangly piece of lost Aussie pop, perfectly chosen. Hopefully this song will find release soon. Then came Ripple, Reptile, Two Places at Once (a personal favourite and another high point) and The Disillusionist, a creepy number from 1992’s Priest = Aura that showcased Steve Kibey’s manic showmanship tonight. Marty took the controls for Spark, hugely supported by the audience, then came On Angel Street followed by Under the Milky Way – my spouse’s favourite Church song. Space Saviour closed the second set, but the audience were then treated to two encores: Already Yesterday, Invisible, Operetta and finally Tantalized, interspersed with the many thank-yous that such a production involved.

This was a very special show. The orchestral arrangements suited the songs wonderfully. The lighting was delightful for the Concert Hall, the audience were very appreciative, the band were totally with it. And over the past 30 years, I have seen moments when they haven’t been. They deserved this show and I’m glad to have witnessed it.

Paul Kelly.