The Church has been touring North America in support of their gorgeous new concept album, “The Hypnogogue,” and after a run of successful dates, the Australian band closed out their tour inside a cave in Pelham, TN.
Best known in America for “Under the Milky Way,” “Metropolis,” and “Reptile,” The Church delivered “The Hypnogogue” in February. They described the album as a “retro-futuristic, dystopian narrative that revolves around a fictional machine (the “Hypnogogue”) that extracts music directly from subconscious dreams.” Front-man Steve Kilbey narrated the story throughout the night, enveloping the audience in the world of the machine, its creator, and the characters surrounding it. That alone would have been mesmerizing, but being located beneath the ground, inside a cave…?! Yes, it was an incredible show from The Church, weaving old favorites in between tracks detailing the story of the all-powerful machine.
With no opener and the audience seated, it had the atmosphere of a theatrical performance rather than a rock concert. The lights dropped and the cave was illuminated with only a small bit of purple when the swell of music began. The band walked to the stage and as their outlines became visible in the near darkness, the fans began to cheer.
Ok, I have to admit I was surprised at how many fans were in attendance. As a Californian residing in Tennessee, I find many do not know the alternative, new wave, progressive, etc. music that seems to be a part of the SoCal life. The Church showed they have dedicated fans across the globe and filled up The Caverns quite well – there were zero empty seats in my view – and the excitement coming from those fans was palpable.
The band began with “Ascendence,” which was truly the perfect start. While I am sure “The Hypnogogue” would be amazing at any venue, the cave was a captivating venue for the atmospheric sounds of the album. At song’s end, Kilbey said, “There are so many poignant things about tonight. It’s the last night of our tour of America and I got lost in song.” He also admitted he had “fucked up” the lyrics because he was so lost in the moment, but everyone had a chuckle and enjoyed the moment with him.
“Destination” followed, along with the first of many “thank yous” for the audience. Kilbey’s graciousness and humor stayed throughout the show, and I thoroughly enjoyed his storytelling. Before the next song, he asked us to pretend it was 1919 and we were walking through the woods with someone special, and as we approach a building, we hear music play… “And we will play it for you now,” before beginning “Metropolis.” The crowd cheered as the song began and showed great appreciation for this classic Church song at its end as well.
After “Columbus,” Kilbey told the crowd, “I’ll be back at home, missing this as I have a cup of tea, and thinking ‘I wish I was in the caverns.’” He seemed genuinely thankful to the fans, both tonight and throughout the tour. He shared his love of the new album and described more of the story: It is 2054 and Sun Kim Jong, a female Korean scientist (and occult dabbler) creates the Hypnogogue, which can pull music from people’s dreams. It also has the ability to get “billions and billions of streams” for those songs (“Which would make about three dollars,” quipped Kilbey). Eros Zeta is the biggest rock star of the time and the two fall in love. “Zeta writes this song, which is one of my favorite songs that I have ever written. It is ‘No Other You.’
Kilbey then introduced the talented band: Ian Haug (guitar), Ashley Naylor (guitar), Jeffrey Cain (guitar/keys), and Nicholas Meredith (drums). They went back into the music with some older songs, “Kings” and “Is This Where You Live” before popping back to the Hypnogogue timeline where Zeta uses the machine to write a song to bring him back to his former glory, which would be the title track.
After “Hotel Womb” and “Antarctica,” Kilbey joked, “You know in the middle of a show when the band puts on their acoustic guitars and play some acoustic songs? Guess what? Here we with our acoustic set.” They did a lovely rendition of “Old Coast Road,” then “Albert Ross,” which Kilbey said continues the Hypnogogue story with the guitar tech, wandering the halls.
Kilbey admitted in the ‘80s, when he was wearing “so much eye makeup a panda would laugh,” their American record label would not release “Séance,” feeling it was “too depressing” – ha! – but they finally did, and the band played a couple of tracks from it: “Fly” and “One Day.”
“Comedown” was followed by “C’est La Vie,” which Kilbey described as “a song of warning a band manager would write, if a band manager had any talent.”
At this point, Kilbey began to describe one of highlights of his life “was when the most esteemed American television show used not just one, but two of my songs. Do you know what show I’m talking about?” A male voice yelled out, “’Miami Vice!’” “Yes! What a great show!” Kilbey exclaimed. He went on, “When the criminals, they have their guns in their hand, they had beautiful girls, and they had bags of cocaine, and speedboats moored up to the jetty. There was a yacht on the horizon, going over the water in their wake, the police pull up, the sirens [imitates siren sound].
While all that was happening, guess which song was playing? This one.” The familiar intro of “Under the Milky Way” began as the crowd cheered. While there had been some video recording throughout the night, it was not too obtrusive, but it seemed like every other person whipped out their phone to record part of this classic song.
Admitting “we live for your applause,” Kilbey remained appreciative and thankful as they went into “Grind” and what he called “the noisy song,” “Tantalized,” and then closed things out with “Second Bridge.”
With the fans on their feet, the band gave a quick goodnight, but came back for an encore to the excited crowd’s delight. When the first guitar notes of “Reptile” were heard, a cheer went up and a dance circle that had formed off to the side resumed. With “You Took” being the final song, Kilbey again thanked the crowd, expressing gratitude before disappearing into the night.
While I am sad to tell you they have departed our shores for now, I expect the progressive, psychedelic sounds of The Church will be back soon. Until then, I am going to build a blanket fort, grab a flashlight, throw on “The Hypnogogue,” and pretend I am back in the cave with The Church.