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Live Review: The Church @ Lincoln Theatre — 6/22/24

The Church, the psychedelic rock outfit famed for its dabbling in ’80s new wave, is doing some extraordinary work in recent years.

Fronted by the singular Steve Kilbey, who has tweaked the lineup yet again in recent years, The Church produced a pretty fantastic concept album, The Hypnogogue, in 2023, and the band toured it globally with mesmerizing shows. This spring, they dropped a continuation of the concept, Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars, and so they recently dropped by the Lincoln Theatre in DC on a tour in support of it.

Eros Zeta and the Perfumed Guitars is really heady stuff, and it’s a wonderful listening experience. But there’s no denying that The Hypnogogue is the star of the two-album concept, and The Church gave a lot of love to The Hypnogogue at the Lincoln Theatre on June 22.

In presentation of The Hypnogogue songs, Kilbey ran the audience briefly through the groundwork of the story: It’s the year 2054, and Eros Zeta has lost his mojo. As a once great but now declining rockstar, he would like to get his creativity back. He hears of a machine built in Korea called The Hypnogogue. It’s a monstrous dreadful thing, but it holds the promise of imbuing individuals with that creative spark for which Eros Zeta longs. He goes to Korea, falls in love with the creator of The Hynogogue, and enters it despite the good advice of his manager. Despite some initial promise, things do not go well.

Across a 16-song setlist, The Church played seven songs from The Hypnogogue and two from Eros Zeta, pacing the audience through the story while playing some very fine psychedelic guitar music. And here I must observe before I go much further: Steve Kilbey is proving again and again that he’s one of the best rock guitarists of our age. Here in this blog, we have admired Steve’s poetry and his commanding presence as a frontman over a decades-long career. But his guitarwork really shined in performance at the Lincoln Theatre, and his abilities are really at the core of the new songs.

A brilliant example of this can be found in “Realm of Minor Angels” from Eros Zeta, which The Church performed around the show’s two-thirds mark in DC on June 22.

Watch the official music video for “Realm of Minor Angels” by The Church on YouTube:

The Church have made their sound more distinct by recruiting a second touring drummer, supplementing the excellent Tim Powles, who is now the longest serving member of The Church (next to Kilbey) with his 30-year tenure. Tim was totally in the zone, and his percussive power was augmented by Nicholas Meredith on a second drum kit.

I remain impressed and perhaps slightly amused that Jeffrey Cain, formerly of ’90s alt-rockers Remy Zero, has emerged as an incredible member of the band, switching from keyboards to guitars and providing backing vocals as a strong utility player. Jeffrey formally joined The Church in 2020, as did Ashley Naylor, who joined after the departure of the sorely missed Peter Koppes. (Ashley is great, by the way, and really added to the psychedelic atmospherics of the show.)

Still the band didn’t miss a beat. Longtime guitarist Ian Haug, for example, positively thrilled with the opening riff of “Reptile,” the concert standard hailing from The Church’s seminal 1988 album, Starfish. Man, that song still sent shivers through the audience (even without Koppes playing it)!

Watch The Church perform “Reptile” live for their nightfriends fan community on YouTube:

While The Hypnogogue and Eros Zeta dominated the show, The Church reached back to the ’80s and ’90s for some pleasing fan-favorites. In addition to “Reptile,” Steve and company played “Under the Milky Way” of course, positioning it near the end of the set. The band played 1990’s “Metropolis,” another welcome concert staple, early in the show. And they looped 1982’s The Blurred Crusade into the mix for a pair of stunning songs: “An Interlude” in the first half of the show and “You Took” to close a two-song encore.

The Church are touring on a co-headlining bill with The Afghan Whigs, and I am curious as to how that pairing came to be. The Afghan Whigs had a some what unruly audience in DC, and quite a few of them departed after the Whigs’ performance, which was just as well as The Church required a more meditative environment in which to work.

Catch The Church on tour!

Here are some photos of The Church performing at the Lincoln Theatre in DC on June 22, 2024. Pictures by Mickey McCarter.