By Scott Roberts; photos by Sue Volkert
When a band has been together 30 years – a milestone few bands ever even hope to achieve – it has earned the right to look back it at its past accomplishments and bask in the accolades and respect that feat deserves. In the case of Australia’s The Church, whose core of bassist/vocalist Steve Kilbey, guitarist/vocalist Marty Willson-Piper, and guitarist/keyboardist Peter Koppes has been together since 1980 (drummer Tim Powles, the “new guy,” has only been a member for 17 years), the band decided to share their odds-defying longevity in a unique and interesting way with its fans by embarking on an acoustic tour they dubbed “An Intimate Space” which made its final stop here in Atlanta at Center Stage on Saturday night, May 1.
The Church, always a difficult-to-categorize band whose music has run the gamut over the years from three-minute jangle-pop gems to lengthy, spacey guitar jams, chose to present a career retrospective set in reverse — they played one song each from all of their 18 full-length releases starting with the most recent, 2009’s untitled #23 and ending with a song from their 1980 self-titled debut. And despite the depth and diversity of the selections, which included a slightly Latin-flavored version of what Kilbey referred to as “our last hit,” 1990’s “Metropolis” and their biggest American radio splash, 1988’s dreamy “Under The Milky Way,” the set was cohesive and the band always managed to sound like The Church — even while doing The Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” as an encore.
Kilbey is the consummate frontman with his suave lead vocals, natural interaction with the audience, and ease at story-telling, which included a hilarious tale of playing at Center Stage back in 1988 with The Mighty Lemon Drops and accusing the upstart openers of stealing their dressing room chocolates. Ably aided by the vocal support and instrumental prowess of both Willson-Piper and Koppes (who took turns on various guitars, mandolins, keyboards, and, on one song, a floor tom), and solid percussion and occasional vocal harmony from Powles, The Church sounded vibrant, yet relaxed and at ease with their place in the music world. Add in the absolutely impeccable sound at Center Stage, the bonus free five-song EP, and the beautiful 25-page commemorative tour program (also free, and penned by Willson-Piper), The Church’s “An Intimate Space” performance was near perfection, and made concert-goers wish that all their favorite bands would launch a similar undertaking.