Concert review: The Church | 03.25.23, Delmar Hall

After several days of the kind of overcast weather that would have been the perfect backdrop for The Church’s stormy, contemplative music, the clouds parted, and the sun shone blissfully down. Current and former too-cool-for-school kids from the eighties and nineties kept their cred by taking advantage of this rare opportunity to see one of Sydney, Australia’s finest exports. 

If Delmar Hall wasn’t sold out it was certainly close to it, a remarkable showing for a band often referred to as one of the most underappreciated bands of the post-punk era. After a prolonged taped intro, the group took the stage with “Ascendence,” the ethereal opening track that also kicks off their latest long player, The Hypnogogue. It was a bold choice leading with a brand-new track, and it wasn’t the only time the Churchgoers in attendance were treated to songs that were hot off the press. Indeed, a healthy portion of the setlist was given to material from the recently released album. Usually the performance of new material would send folks to the loo, but their inclusion in the set and the positive reaction they received spoke to just how confident the band was and how well they know when their open-minded audience is ready to open up just a little bit more.

From the jangle-pop majesty of songs like “Metropolis” to the Bowie-esque “No Other You,” the set continued to surprise and the band barely paused for a breath. “Antarctica” in particular was pure pop perfection, with guitarists Ian Haug and Ashley Naylor trading shimmering guitar lines over the churning beats of drummer Nicholas Meredith. The combined effect of all of this aural landscaping was representative of the evening as a whole: psychedelic, moody, rocking, and adventurous. 

The last time The Church visited St. Louis was in 2016 at the now-shuttered Ready Room, where they played an abbreviated set opening for The Psychedelic Furs. Their show at Delmar Hall, however, featured no opening act, giving vocalist/bassist Steve Kilbey free reign to let his quirky and charismatic personality guide the evening’s journey. And what a journey it was.

Kilbey is a wonderful frontman, charismatic enough to get your attention and eccentric enough to keep it locked in. Sharply dressed in a black shirt and vest, he resembled what a history professor might look like if he occasionally moonlighted as an international assassin. Focusing intensely on a faraway star one moment and wearing a bemused grin the next, he befriended the crowd by observing and ironically commentating on so many rock-and-roll tropes that he somehow made it all feel new. When introducing the band’s most famous song “Under the Milky Way,” he noted that the song had been used on Miami Vice when drug lords were being chased by Crockett and Tubbs. “I bet you never wrote a song that was used on Miami Vice,” he said with a mischievously cocked eyebrow. 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention guitarist/keyboardist Jeffrey Cain, who Kilbey introduced as “a brilliant songwriting energetic geezer.” Cain played a vital role throughout the night providing beds of lush synths and playing note-perfect counterpoint melodies on new songs like “Albert Ross” and “C’est la vie”as well as older tracks like the should’ve-been-a-massive-hit “Comedown” from 1996’s Magicians Among the Spirits. He really had a chance to shine when the band played a mini-acoustic set with “Old Coast Road” being a particular highlight. Early in the concert, Kilbey described The Hypnogogue as an apparatus that is able to pull thoughts from a person’s head and transform those thoughts into music. While we don’t have the technology to harness that kind of cosmic voodoo, we at least have Kilbey and the Church, whose dreams we can take with us into the night, long after the lights have dimmed. | Jim Ousley

Click here to read our interview with The Church’s Steve Kilbey!

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