Monday, June 29, 2009

The Church - Beachland Ballroom & Tavern, Cleveland, OH June 26, 2009 - with Adam Franklin's Bolts Of Melody

Wow. It's a long drive from Evansville to Cleveland (nearly 8 hours), but my trusty friend and major Church/Steve Kilbey fan TE and I made the journey on a blisteringly hot summer day, and it mostly all worked out wonderfully. With him being a veteran of past Church tours, I had never before experienced this venerable Australian act of grizzled psychedelic rockers, and I picked an amazing time to enter the fold. The Church's latest CD, 'Untitled #23', may be one of their best works, and this tour found them in top form.

The drive itself was nondescript. Miles and hours of bland Midwestern scenery and concrete retaining walls. We passed through Louisville, then Cincinnati, then Columbus (fittingly, the title of an old Church track), and finally Cleveland. Some light sandwiches and granola bars (and fruit) served fine as quick lunches along the way, and we motored on to Cleveland like true road dogs. The club itself is a small little place, easy to miss, in a kind of forsaken downtown area (across the street from a blood sausage shop - nauseating!), and actually pretty near Lake Erie, which was a lovely deep blue. We found parking in the small lot, and fairly promptly entered the ballroom area, camera in tow, and ready to approach the well-stocked and (really quite impressive) merchandise booth - complete with tons of CDs (both Church and solo releases), art prints, the new Kilbey biography, t-shirts, and more. I found a treasured Refo:mation CD, which is excessively rare, but passed on the limited and similarly rare 'Tin Mine' compilation. TE nabbed a Kilbey art print (suitable for, and sure to be subject to) framing. I was unhappy to not find a copy of 'Back With Two Beasts', but that freed up some dollars for a tasty and tangy barbecue tofu sandwich and a Newcastle Brown Ale, both priced modestly for a bar/club, so kudos to the Beachland for fair prices. We stood around the well-ventilated and air-conditioned club (again, rare, so thank you Beachland) while listening to the soothing sounds of Sigur Ros (a full album, seemed like), then some Verve, Arcade Fire, and Silversun Pickups -- really good to hear enjoyable sounds from the PA while waiting for the bands to take the stage!

Opening act Adam Franklin (he formerly of 90's-era shoegaze rockers Swervedriver) and his new band, Bolts Of Melody was solid, presenting some good, honest indie rock. Some fine songwriting, though, seemed lost a bit on the music, which I'd rather hear some more noise and fervor on. Franklin kind of got a wee bit edgy on the wonderful closing track, but the energy just wasn't there otherwise.

When the Church finally took the stage, they entered with atmospheric blue lights, and the beginning riffs to the song 'Tantalized' emerged from the chaos and the roar of the crowd. This song, among the band's heaviest (and already 23 years old), set the stage for an energetic and rousing evening of classic 'hits' and new material. There seemed to be a genuinely rollicking good time going among the band itself, not to mention for the devoted crowd. The band raced through tracks from most of their history, with some highlights being 'Almost With You', 'Operetta', Space Savior', and an encore of 'Under The Milky Way' and 'Reptile'. The band returned for a second encore, which included 'Hotel Womb', and they lost very little of their raw energy and passion. During the show, it was evident how important drummer/producer Tim Powles has been to the group. He is a powerhouse drummer, transforming even the older Church tunes into monster rock beasts. Guitarist Peter Koppes was a stoic figure, only allowing a few trickles of smiles to get through his businesslike demeanor, while keeping the moody guitars going effortlessly. A shaggy-bearded and long-haired Marty Willson-Piper hammed it up all show, posing and laughing like he was having the time of his life. And Steve Kilbey was a picture of energy and vitality, looking very healthy and fit, and lurking around the stage like a possessed man. He (as well as the rest of the group) are obviously in a good place these days, as their chemistry was stunning. The double-guitar interplay was perfect, the mixing crystal clear, Kilbey's voice in fine form, and it was simply a brilliant show, packed with energy, noise, smiles, and good times.

Our only regret was not staying around after the show to meet the guys for photo ops or autographs. Ah well. Regardless, the memories of this intimate and intense Church show will linger for a long time. It's a good time to be a fan of these guys. Great records, great concerts....

Here's the opener, 'Tantalized'...

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