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Live Review: The Church at Summerfest • Milwaukee, WI

| July 3, 2024

The Church – Photo: Adam Nicholas

 

The Church

Summerfest, Milwaukee, WI

Saturday, June 29, 2024

Review by Jeff Elbel

 

After a damp and gloomy Friday in Chicago, Steve Kilbey recognized a good thing when The Church took the stage for the headlining slot at Summerfest’s Miller Lite Oasis on Saturday. He greeted the crowd and remarked upon the “perfect 72 degrees” for the summer evening on the lakefront as the band launched into the heady “Myrrh” from the 1985 album Heyday.

The Australian psychedelic rockers offered the unique appeal of acclaimed new music from the 2023 album The Hypnogogue while acknowledging fondness for the band’s roots in the ‘80s alternative music scene. “This song was a hit 34 years ago,” said Kilbey when introducing the spirited jangle of 1990 single “Metropolis.” “It was the last time we ever darkened the doorstep of commercial radio.” Kilbey appeared to be transfixed by the unexpected entrance of a drone camera during the song. Guitarist Ian Haug recoiled with a surprised laugh mid-song when the unit made a close approach to his head.

Following the familiar fare, the band dove into a set that heavily featured conceptual pieces from The Hypnogogue. First came the unsettled ambience of the album’s title cut. Kilbey explained the song’s science fiction setting in the year 2054. “It’s a machine that can drag the songs right out of your soul, your head, and your past lives,” he explained, describing character Eros Zeta as a “feckless flop of a pop star.” Zeta enters the dangerous and corrupting device against the advice of his manager, given during the urgent and propulsive “C’est la Vie.” “What if I told you it was true?” repeated the band in unison as Jeffrey Cain played tumbling guitar arpeggios.

With Kilbey as the lone founding member, the Church’s lineup has coalesced around former Powderfinger guitarist Haug, Even veteran Ashley Naylor, and former Remy Zero multi-instrumentalist Cain. The band’s longstanding co-producer and drummer, Tim Powles, added a multitude of textures via percussion and samples to Nicholas Meredith’s drum kit. During “The Hypnogogue,” Haug and Naylor weaved intoxicating and droning guitar lines using battery-powered EBow gadgets while Cain played evocative piano.

The amorous “No Other You” was a mid-tempo glam rocker with Haug’s Mott-styled guitar lick. The song concluded with a bluesy and atmospheric solo by Naylor. Next was the chiming “An Interlude” from 1982’s The Blurred Crusade, alternating between sublime textures and crashing, turbulent passages. Following the dreamy “Flickering Lights” featuring Kilbey’s warm baritone vocal came the sinister and sinewy “Reptile,” performed under eerie green light.

Kilbey introduced “Realm of Minor Angels” as “a romantic song for a warm night.” It was the lone song to represent Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars, the 2024 companion album to The Hypnogogue. “Love will find you in the end,” sang Kilbey. The singer was accompanied by Haug’s sparkling mandolin.

Gold Afternoon Fix fan-favorite “Grind” was a showcase for the band’s intuitive interplay and singular ability to create spellbinding sonic moods. The audience reached a fever pitch for the indelible shimmer of the 1988 single “Under the Milky Way,” propelled by Haug’s acoustic 12-string guitar and elevated by the signature sound of Naylor’s ecstatic EBow guitar solo. The main set concluded with the melancholy “Second Bridge.”

The Church returned for an encore with psychedelic rock epic “You Took.” Haug, Cain, and Naylor weaved an intricate blend of guitars atop Kilbey’s hypnotic bass line. As the song reached its crescendo, white lights pulsed to the rhythm created by Meredith and Powles. After fond goodbyes from the stage, the dazzled audience walked into what remained of a memorable and quintessential summer night.

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