everyone knows the church has undergone a transformation, the recent absorption of powderfinger's ian haug in lieu of martin wilson piper was greeted with some distain by acolytes of the band, hostility in cyberspace and tensions in the musical world. despite this ian has proven himself equal and as a side effect the band appear to have changed trajectory somewhat. it's a difficult quality to quantify but if you were lucky to catch them live in europe and on friday night at the factory you would know exactly what i mean.
its very hard for a band to rise from its own ashes, a band that has meant so much to so many. i understand why people resented a change in line up, the church could never be the same without martin. but do we want the church to be the same? sometimes change is a good thing for everyone and on friday the band sounded so vital and fresh, so energetic as they played the whole of the blurred crusade right through from beginning to end. the songs are over 30 years old yet they sounded brand new, the two guitarists completely meshed while tim the barefoot drummer played with the skill and dexterity that has been consistent since he joined the line up. yes, they survived that change and they went on to record and play outstanding music for many years, and now is no different.
the cold sydney air and bracing winds threw together a sell out crowd jammed into the inner city warehouse, all waiting expectantly as the band began their pre stage rituals. that esoteric music coming through the pa growing louder and louder, strange chanting and deep vibrational tones, the smoke machines kicking in, that powerful blue oceanic light, we waited and waited like soft tropical fish underwater waiting for the full moon to trigger some natural response.
when it happened it was truly miraculous. the first chords of 'almost with you' and the great surge forwards, yes it was happening, it is happening now. effortlessly the band marched through the album, it wasn't until 'just for you' that the magic took hold. yes it was magical, the air electric with the ambience of something very special, steve as usual giving everything, some kind of barrier was penetrated and the audience was won. none of the blurred crusade sounded old, in fact i think they should re release it with a live disc. it was ever more powerful, more intense live than on record. and when it finished steve whispered knowingly, 'wait, there's more. there's always more.'
and there is. for the church have always been very generous to their fans.
if god sends his angels then we were all blessed with a live version of 'life speeds up' an incredibly compartmentalised tune that sounded so organic and powerful i was knocked out by the way it was played and the inherent power of the song. i think we all were.
20 mins later steve confesses that they will play some of the new cd and some classics. who can argue with that?
'vanishing man' with it's dark lyric contrasting against the love tunes of the blurred crusade, 'delierious' sounding so much better live with it's harmonies and pace changes, 'toy head' oh my god can it get any better?
the church play their new songs with precision and a hint of chaos, steve's base playing always perfectly match his showmanship. rock and roll is all about attitude right? steve projects right in your face, not only the presence of rock but of theatre and dance as he inhabits 'the disillusionist' and takes over the stage. transcendence, such a difficult space to attain but the band open the gates and we flood through on a wave of admiration, devotion and understanding. some things are sacred.
ah but it's only rock and roll they say?
yeah well the rolling stones may say that but they have ever seen the church play. it's not just rock and roll. it's something else. we all slide into whatever it is, poetry, grace, sublimation, whatever you call it, we love it.
'love philtre' divine music, carrying us onwards into new places, more pink floyd than pink floyd, more like a spiritual hymn than pop song.
'block' was incredible, such a remarkable song preformed with such passion and commitment. this is not music by numbers but by intuition, i can't imagine a better song than block that clears alway the debris of 21st century blues.
so many songs in the second set i forget where i am, what city, it all just becomes a perfect moment, i'm at the end of a long long journey.
word is there can't be an encore, the band ran out of time, the people who run the factory said no, the gods of electricity and power say enough, the daddies and mummies need to get home to pay the babysitters. but the church come back with 'day 5' accompanied with a bongo player. then they launch into a magnificent cover of 'waiting for the sun' which is just glorious and finally blaze out with 'reptile.'
the crowds disperse, the people depart, the skies are clear and sydney's ice age reappears. as i wait for the bus i think about ian and how hard it must have been to step into the shoes of one of the worlds greatest guitar players and i think, 'not only did he do it, he did it with such style and grace, such individuality, it's like he has been in the band all the time.
but for someone who has in reality been with them for a year or so, the band sound reborn. better than ever really. ready to go onwards and are we not lucky people, we get to come along for the ride.