Article & Photos by Aidan Heilman
The Church found its origins forty-three years ago in Sydney, Australia, in the year 1980. The band was originally founded by Steve Kilbey, Peter Koppes, Marty Wilson-Piper, and Nick Ward. Between 1980 and 2023, The Church underwent five member departures and four additions. The only original member remaining is the frontman, Steve Kilbey. Ashley Naylor, Jeffrey Cain, Ian Huag, and Nicholas Merideth now play alongside him.
The Church has consistently released new projects over the past forty-three years. Their twenty-fifth release came in February of this year, titled The Hypnogogue. The cover art for the project is just as intriguing visually as the music is sonically. The cover features mechanical hands, a camera lens, an eye, city scapes, newspaper, a planet, and more, all digitally collaged together in abstract fashion. To me this reflects the spacy, near psychedelic, and transportive collage of guitars, synthesizers, vocals, and percussive elements found throughout the album.
What exactly is The Hypnogogue? During the show I attended this Halloween at Space in Evanston, Illinois, Kilbey explained: “The Hypnogogue… it’s a process, it’s a machine, it’s a thing, that sucks songs straight out of dreamers heads, and throws them straight up to chance.” He introduced every song off of the new album with a short story relating back to this ethereal machine, loosely following a protagonist named Ira Cedar in the year 2054. The bits of story were not exactly cohesive, but they didn’t need to be. The interjection of narrative throughout the show provided a nice flow and kept things interesting.
The band’s showmanship was engaging, yet traditional. Every member wore an all black outfit, and Kilbey continuously referred to the audience as “ladies and gentlemen”. You could feel that it came from a place of authenticity, especially considering how long The Church has been in business. The majority of the audience also appeared to be long standing fans, and they loved every bit of humorous commentary Kilbey provided between songs.
At one point he formally introduced each member, after which they played a short riff on their respective instruments to showcase their talent. There was one woman who was so enthused by Ashley Naylor’s guitar playing that she went right up to the stage about a foot away from him, pointed at him, and repeatedly exclaimed “F**k yeah!” and then “I love you!” This woman continued to shout from her seat intermittently for the remainder of the show.
The woman’s comments posed no distraction, though. The men carried on without missing a beat and kept the sound full and unwavering. Before their intermission, they played a few acoustic songs in which three out of five members swapped their electric instruments for acoustic guitars, Ian swapped his guitar for a mandolin, and Nicholas swapped his sticks for a shaker in one hand and a mallet in the other.
On the whole, frequent instrument changes kept the music intriguing and their subtle style of showmanship kept the set engaging. The Church’s musical character, reserved stage presence, and dedicated fanbase came together to form a unique expression of old school neo-psychedelia infused alternative rock that was a sight (and sound) to behold.
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