BY JEFF ELBEL | FOR THE SUN-TIMES
Thirty-five years into a storied career, Australian psychedelic rockers The Church are experiencing rebirth. Some of the band’s evolution was necessitated by guitarist Marty Willson-Piper’s departure prior to work on 2014’s “Further/Deeper.” Many fans feared that the band’s elemental twin-guitar synergy would suffer.
Frontman Steve Kilbey was determined that the Church would thrive. “I knew it had to be something special,” he says. “Outwardly, I remained confident, but inwardly I wondered how we were going to pull it off.”
A trio composed of Kilbey, guitarist Peter Koppes, and drummer/producer Tim Powles recorded in 1997 as side project The Refo:mation [sic]. There was no consideration of operating as the Church in that format then or now. “We need the second guitar for this to be the Church,” Kilbey says.
The addition of former Powderfinger guitarist Ian Haug catalyzed fresh chemistry with Koppes. Without Willson-Piper’s blindingly fast flourishes, Koppes’ elegant textures moved forward. A seasoned player and prominent Australian musician, Haug’s empathetic interplay weaved into moody tapestries that remained recognizable. “The addition of Ian exceeded our wildest expectations,” says Kilbey. “He’s the perfect team player, and a damned good guitarist.”
The Church’s updated sound is less frenetic than that of songs like scorching “Heyday” album track “Tantalized.” Instead, “Further/Deeper” is enveloping, layered and intense. New song “Miami” recalls the shimmering shape of “Destination” from 1988’s “Starfish.” “Lighting White” evokes the Arabian tone of “Kings” from 1990’s head-trip masterpiece “Priest=Aura.” During the song, Kilbey sings, “I’ve got a God, his name is perfection.”
“[Narcotics Anonymous] and [Alcoholics Anonymous] use the phrase ‘the God of your own understanding,’” says Kilbey. “I think that’s fantastic. My God is perfect and consistent. He doesn’t change his mind about things like peace and love.”
The Church is touring with fellow ’80s survivors Psychedelic Furs. Among co-billed dates are a handful of special headlining shows like the Aug. 29 appearance at the Old Town School of Folk Music. The extended Church performance will feature all of 1982’s “The Blurred Crusade.” The fan-favorite album includes the bright jangle of “Almost With You” and the expansive “You Took.”
Although Kilbey has occasionally chafed at being tethered to popular singles “The Unguarded Moment” and “Under the Milky Way,” his experience revisiting “The Blurred Crusade” has been positive overall. “It can be strange, looking at your baby pictures,” says Kilbey. “I hear naiveté in some of it, but naiveté can be a bad thing or a good thing. You can hear the optimism and energy of a young band. It holds up well.”
SPOTIFY playlist: http://bit.ly/ChurchSPOT
Jeff Elbel is a local freelance writer.