Live Review: The Church @ Cats Cradle – April 6th 2023

Australian genre-bending psych rockers the Church recently released The Hypnogogue, their 26th album, and the first since founding guitarist Peter Koppes left the band.  The void left by Koppes has been filled by long-time tour keyboard player and guitarist Jeffrey Cain and new guitarist Ashley Naylor.  The Hypnogogue is a concept album that tells a musical sci-fi tale set in a dystopian future.  It builds on the psychedelic roots that the Church have honed over the last 40 years and takes the band into prog rock territory.  The release has been garnering positive reviews from critics and fans alike.  The Church have hit the road for a run of US Spring dates in support of the release, before heading back home to Australia to continue the tour into the summer.  The band were on the “back nine” and heading into their final few US dates when they brought the saga of The Hypnogogue to Cat’s Cradle in Carrboro NC on a Wednesday night.

Similar to what they have done on previous tours, prior to opening for general admission, the band hosted a meet and greet with VIP ticket holders that included a short “soundcheck” performance followed by the band mingling amongst their fans chatting, signing autographs, and posing for photos.  Once the doors were opened for the queuing fans, the room quickly filled, and the anticipation started escalating.  Without an opening act, the Church took the stage and they wasted no time introducing fans to the new music from The Hypnogogue, opening with “Ascendence,” before reaching back to “Destination” from 1988’s Starfish.  This was followed by founding frontman Steve Kilbey introducing the next song as something “You might have heard emanating from a transistor radio in a window somewhere,” before the room was filled with the familiar sound of “Metropolis,” from 1990’s Gold Afternoon Fix.  The opening salvo of songs set the pace for the rest of the show.  Spread over the next two and a half hours, songs from The Hypnogogue were woven seamlessly into and around classic songs from across the Church’s vast catalog.  Kilbey was a charismatic and engaging narrator who provided more than topical banter between songs.  He told stories and provided background that connected the audience to the underlying story behind the songs from The Hypnogogue.

While the audience reacted enthusiastically to the new songs as well as the classics, what really stood out was how impressively everything fit together and felt like a cohesive unit.  This was due in no small part to the interaction and understanding built up in a relatively short amount of time by the current lineup of the Church behind group founder, frontman, and bass player Steve Kilbey, including: guitarist Ian Haug, multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain on guitar and keyboards, recent addition guitarist Ashley Naylor, and drummer Nicholas Meredith who is filling in for long serving member Tim Powles who was unfortunately unable to join up with his bandmates for this leg of the tour.

 Whether introducing fans to new material, adding new life to old favorites, or digging out a hidden gem, the impressive musicianship on display combined with Kilbey’s assured vocals created an ideal sonic mix that elevated each song in the live setting.  By the time they worked their way around late in the set to “Under the Milky Way,” the song that is undeniably their biggest hit and as Steve Kilbey sheepishly proclaimed, featured in an episode of Miami Vice, the crowd was absolutely enraptured. They closed out the main set shortly after, with “Tantalized,” followed by “Second Bridge,” waving to the crowd and ushered off stage to rapturous applause.  They would return to send everyone home happy with a double shot of “Reptile” followed by The Blurred Crusade’s “You Took.”

The show at Cat’s Cradle found the Church vital, firing on all cylinders, and downright incendiary.  It was a Hell of a performance and undeniable proof that despite 40 years and 26 albums, Steve Kilbey and the Church refuse to sit back and coast on nostalgia.  It’s all foot to the floor, full speed ahead, with no time to dwell on the rearview mirror.

The Church @ Cat’s Cradle
Photos © Dan Kulpa // Clashdan Photography

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