On a borderline perfect Friday night in Melbourne, what better way to spend it than with a quality band such as The Church? Formed in Canberra in 1980, The Church first came to local attention with the stunning single “The Unguarded Moment”. Over the years, they have developed their initial neo-psychedelic leanings into more refined and challenging literate pop music. Tonight, as part of the ‘Future Past Perfect’ tour, the band were celebrating thirty years together featuring three excellent snapshots from the various points of the band’s career. Their latest release, Untitled #23, 1994’s epic Priest=Aura and the classic 1988 release Starfish, which really broke them overseas, were played in full with intermissions between each, over the course of nearly four hours. No support act, just an evening of pure Church goodness.

Babysitters across Melbourne would have been healthily employed this evening. Primarily a crowd of ‘a certain age’, there were still a great number of younger attendees, proving that great music is someting that transcends age. A lot of vintage Chruch T-shirts and paisley shirts and vests had been dusted off and being worn with pride. A civilised, sit down affair, it was heartening to see such a large crowd gathered out of love and respect for the band.

First up was Untitled #23. A great deal of the crowd were unfamiliar with this latest release, it was a highly pleasant experience to hear the latest from The Church played live. Featuring compelling tracks such as “Anchorage”, “Happenstance” and the powerful “On Angel Street”, it proves that, three decades later, The Church haven’t lost any of their power to challenge and compel the listener and take them on a journey as far as music is concerned. Also, from a performance perspective, it was interesting to see lead singer/bassist Steve Kilby simply singing and not playing an instrument at times, really getting into performing a song rather than simply standing there singing and playing.

This lead to some moments of interpretive dance that REM’s Michael Stipe would have been proud of. It was also lovely to see Steve in a positive and cheerful frame of mind, dispelling the ‘grumpy old man’ persona that he is known and somewhat loved for. This is a man that, after thirty years, still very much loves what he does. Also, hats off to the band who, apart from drummer Tim Powels and multi-instrumentalist Craig Wilson, were continually swapping and changing instruments, sometime even mid-song, an incredibly hard thing to do musically without dropping the thread of what you are playing at the time.

Next on the schedule was a fantastic reading of the Priest=Aura album. Receiving mixed reviews upon its official release, the album was the band getting back to what made them after their last two albums had been recorded in Los Angeles. Priest=Aura was decidedly anti-commercial and not ‘poppy’ like its predecessors.

This is an album that, while having an incredible intensity to it, can calm and chill the listener at the same time. The music the band created on this release is so easy to get intoxicated by and lost in. Priest=Aura was a standout performed in full this evening. Rather than the ethereal, almost otherworldly vibe and attitude it has in recorded form, it sounded much more urgent and passionate when played live.

Tracks such as the haunting “Ripple”, “Old Flame”, the astounding “Witch Hunt” and the appropriately named “Chaos” were a joy to hear. This reminded those in attendance of how well chosen by the band the albums that were performed this evening were. This album and it performance this evening also really gave Kilby’s partner in crime, ace guitarist Marty Wilson-Piper, a chance to shine and show off the utterly formidable and impressive guitar sounds that have really made the band what they are over the years.

Finally, we had Starfish. Recorded in Los Angeles, Kilby describes the album as an accidental occurrence during the chaos that the album was recorded in. Starfish really marked a turning point in the band’s career and holds a special place in the hearts and minds of many in attendance for this show.

Kicking off with the wonderful “Destination”, this is the album most famous for the utterly sublime thing of beauty known as “Under The Milky Way”. An all-time track, the band have a somewhat ambiguous relationship with it, as some bands do with a song of theirs that becomes iconic, such as Radiohead’s “Creep” or Pulp’s “Common People”. It can turn into a millstone around the band’s neck. Thankfully, it was placed with grace and style and received very warmly by the crowd. Other highlights from such a great album included “North, South East & West”, “A New Season” and an utterly storming version of “Reptile” with, courtesy of Marty, one of the most hypnotic guitar riffs in the history of music.

To the band’s eternal credit, they stuck to what had been planned with the evening. No encores, no playing the big hits to pander to the crowd. One the most appealing aspects of The Church as a band is that they have always played the music game on their own terms and rules and maintained their principles. This was a truly excellent night and an absolute gift for the fans that have followed them over the past thirty years.

– Neil Evans