The Church – Recreating Starfish, by the Pacific in Solana Beach

The Church have been road warriors, celebrating the 30th anniversary of their breakout album Starfish, with gigs across Europe, America and of course their home in Australia.

The anniversary tour started a year ago, with a sold-out appearance at the Meltdown Festival in London on the personal invitation of its curator, The Cure’s Robert Smith. Touching down in Solana Beach this week, the band played a lengthy show packed with songs drawn from their 26 album catalogue.

The eponymous reason for the 30th anniversary tour.

The first half of the show was comprised of Starfish in its entirety. Not surprisingly “Under the Milky Way” and “Reptile” evoked the most massive response. The original album was produced in LA by Waddy Wachtel and released on Arista, all of which was a far cry from what The Church had previously delivered. But clearly the album struck a chord; the layered guitars and psychedelic explorations of previous releases were honed to a brighter, shinier result.

The current quintet continues to favor Rickenbacker guitars, apparently the more strings the better. Twelve string models were most frequently deployed, and the chiming results captured the band’s lush studio sound. They have always been a strong band on stage, and they show know signs of slowing down.

The band is only a couple years from logging four decades of existence. Bassist Steve Kilbey has been the sole consistent member; the current lineup includes fellow founding member Peter Koppes (who took a five year hiatus in the 1990s). Drummer Tim Powles joined the band during that hiatus, and his massive bass drum sound is integral to the band’s sonic explorations, even if it sometimes overwhelmed the rest of the sound mix.

Koppes, Cain, Kilbey, Powles, Haug (left to right).

The Church were revitalized in 2014 with the addition of guitarist Ian Haug, formerly of another iconic Australian band, Powderfinger. Touring member Jeffrey Cain was versatile on guitars, bass, keyboards and backing vocals. Kilbey took all lead vocals; his range was not broad but it was mostly effective. The twin guitar arrangements were buttressed by the versatile Cain, who moved fluidly from keyboards and guitar to bass when Kilbey was in the mood to only dance and sing.

Koppes switched occasionally to acoustic guitar. When the guitars all fed off each other and the propulsive rhythm locked in, the results were blissful. That was especially evident in “The Unguarded Moment,” which was their first big hit. Also well-assayed was “Electric Lash” and “Metropolis.”

The Church set the stage for bands like War On Drugs; both revel in the aural possibilities of the electric guitar, with shimmering results.

Haug’s array of science to assist with guitar sonic explorations.

Koppes has tried to distill The Church’s raison d’être in words: “Music is like inner space and we’re astronauts,” he says. “It’s a spellbinding thing, it’s hypnotizing. That’s why people like it. It takes them into another world and we’re here to open those doors.”

(photos by Brad Auerbach)

Cool tour promo clip here.

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.