Friday night legendary Australian Alt/Psych rockers The Church brought their Starfish 30th Anniversary Tour to The Regent Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Recorded and produced at studios that today are within a medium priced Uber ride distance from the venue, Starfish was the band’s 5th album and by far it’s most commercially successful outing, spawning mainstream international hit “Under the Milky Way” and alt radio hit “Reptile” and going gold in both the States and Australia. The large audience that album attracted to the band lasts to today and packed the venue, which was set up with the usual standing-room-only downstairs, but with VIP seating upstairs. $27.50 got you in the door, $42.50 got you a seat in the balcony, and for $99 there was a VIP meet and greet. Downstairs was full and upstairs was pretty well populated too, maybe 75 or 80 people up there?
After a long period of ambient music and ever darkening lights, and some grumpy audience members demanding the show start, The Church started with “Destination”, with its plaintive build at the start and thoughtful pauses and tempo variations, combined with wailing lead guitar. Right off the bat they sounded great. When they played this album at Music Tastes Good festival in Long Beach last year it sounded good but they’ve been touring it for a while now and it really seems honed to a pretty fine point now.
“Under the Milky Way” was second, so no saving the biggest hit for the end of the show. Yay album shows. The familiar 12 string jangle was met with exuberant cheers from the audience and the song flowed out from the stage like a warm nostalgic musical quilt enveloping the whole room.
The rest of side 1 was a blur and went by far too fast. For the last side 1 song, “North, South, East And West”, singer Steve Kilby told the tale of how the guitar part came from soundcheck noodling at Dallas’ Fast and Cool Club. The lyrics though are a reflection on the band’s time in LA recording Starfish and spending months in what must’ve felt like an alien planet for them, soaking in the worst parts of American Culture and reacting to it with a mix of dismay and disdain: “Dream up a scam and then rake in the clams”, “The face of today just a scalpel away”, “Restore your lost soul for two dollars plus toll”. It’s like the brutally honest anti-“I Love LA”. We could all use that every now and then to keep a balanced perspective.
Side two blew by too fast also, with the highlight being fan favorite “Reptile” and its energizing delayed-guitar part and hi hat driving along Kilby’s urgent and cutting lyrics/vocals in wave after wave. The audience went wild and the energy in the room reached its peak.
After an intermission of 20 minutes or so The Church returned and played a lengthy second set featuring songs from throughout their 17 album repertoire. “Metropolis” from the album after Starfish, 1990’s Gold Afternoon Fix, provided another flashback to the band’s recording-in-LA era when their psychedelic and experimental tendencies were relegated to the back seat in favor of a more focused and commercial sound.
Some other great moments in the second set included a track from their latest album Man Woman Life Death Eternity, the floating and expansive ballad “Another Century”, followed by one of their earliest songs, “Constant In Opal”, one of the most intense and driving songs of the night.
This was a great night for fans of The Church. Getting to hear one of their best albums straight through was fantastic, and they didn’t skimp on the second set either, coming in at around 12 songs. At one point Steve joked about taking the band in the direction of doing more panpipes music and even got out a panpipe and tooted a few notes. Nobody seemed terribly excited about that concept but they’d probably find a way to make it interesting if they did it. Maybe they can get Zamfir to collaborate…
Words and photos by Tim Aarons