17 April 2010: The Winchester Tavern and Music Hall, Lakewood, Ohio
I decided to run myself hard these last few nights. I was in Chicago on business and was able to hang out with a bunch of friends in town for C2E2, then I flew home Saturday afternoon to make it to The Church’s show at the Winchester in Cleveland suburb of Lakewood that night with my friends Jeff and Anna.
My flight landed in Cleveland around 4:30, allowing me just enough time to retrieve my car, grab a quick bite to eat, call Tracy and the kiddo to say "hello," and get my tired body over to Jeff and Anna’s place in time to head up for a pre-show beverage and then the show. None of us had ever been to The Winchester before, in fact, I’d never heard of the place until I found out The Church would be playing there. We found the place just fine, though, and were early enough to head down the street to Sullivan’s for a pint, then to The Winchester for the show.
Now, the last time Jeff and I attended a show, it did not end well. So there was a certain level of trepidation heading into the night. However, the Winchester’s music hall was like the Phantasy Theater for grown-ups, and the atmosphere was exactly what you’d expect for a mellow ’80s alternative band going on 30 years since their first album release. But what was unexpected was the quality of everything that went into the evening.
When we entered the hall, we were each handed a glossy 28-page full-color program, a five-song EP, and a truly unique concert experience. For this show, a part of the “An Intimate Space” 30th Anniversary Acoustic Tour, Steve Kilbey, Peter Koppes, Marty Wilson-Piper, and Tim Powles performed one song from each of their albums in reverse chronological order. So things opened with “Pangaea” from 2009’s Untitled #23 and ended with “Take It All Away” off the band’s self-titled album from 1981. In between, the band played some incredible music, supplemented by between-song banter that ranged from insightful back story on the next song or album the song was from to amusing anecdotes of the era to bad puns and jokes.
An early misstep was “Reptile” – one of my favorite tracks off the incredible Starfish album reworked for El Momento Siguiente with a jazz influence, but the biggest disappointment of the night was the Spanish revision to Gold Afternoon Fix’s “Metropolis”. Those two classic songs felt brutalized in the attempt to make them sound fresher. Happily, though, everything else was really good. I’m not familiar with much of the band’s more recent stuff, but first set offerings like “Invisible”, a country flavored “Louisiana”, and “Comedown” were excellent.
After the first nine songs, the band took a fifteen minute intermission before returning to effortlessly move through the classics. “Under the Milky Way”, the Beatles-esque “Already Yesterday”, “Almost With You”... every one of them were standouts! This was followed by three songs spread over two encores where they were finally able to break their own self-imposed rules about what could be played that night. While it wasn’t surprising that they were going to play it (news travels quickly on the interwebs if you know what you’re looking for), that didn’t affect how surprisingly powerful their cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Disarm” was in execution. Spot on, and rocking hard, I never would have guessed The Church could deliver on a song like that. And the show closer, “Grind” from Gold Afternoon Fix almost made up for the transgressions on “Metropolis”.
Much like the Pretenders’ gig last year, The Church show afforded me the opportunity to meet another online friend in-person: Matt Wardlaw. A young guy with an old soul (musically speaking), he runs the most excellent Cleveland-based music blog, Addicted to Vinyl. We’ve corresponded and follow one another on Twitter, but it’s always great to put a face to a name, and I’m glad we finally had the opportunity to meet.
It was an impressive two-and-a-half hours of music, and Kilbey’s voice sounded exactly like it did 20 years earlier. Equally impressive was the night’s concept and the peripheral incentives we received. That a band like The Church could produce a full-color concert program, without any advertising, that provided insight on each of their albums and give it away with an EP says something about where the concert-going experience should be heading. Let’s hope other bands will follow their lead.