The Church’s Hypnogogue World Tour: A Psychedelic Musical Journey Review+Photos: The Church at Madison Theater 10/13/23
COVINGTON, KY, CA- Psychedelic alt-rockers, The Church, have embarked on their Hypnogogue World Tour Part II, making a stop at the Madison Theater in Covington, Kentucky on Friday, October 13th. They released their 26th album, “Hypnogogue,” in February 2023, with a deluxe edition following in late September. This marks their first album since the departure of founding guitarist Peter Koppes in 2020. Unlike many of their contemporaries, The Church has not confined itself to a nostalgia act. Group founder, Steven Kilbey, continues to produce new music. He is now joined by a talented group of musicians, including guitarist Ian Haug, who joined The Church in 2013 after his previous band, Powderfinger, disbanded, taking over for founding member Marty Willson-Piper. Ashley Naylor, who fronts the group Even, joined The Church in 2020 as a guitarist. Behind these three, multi-instrumentalist Jeffrey Cain, another recent addition to the band, alternated between guitar and keys, while Nicholas Meredith handled the drums.
As a long-time fan of the band, I’ve had the privilege of seeing them perform live several times. One memorable occasion was at the Hollywood Palladium in 1988 when they, along with the venerable L.A. goth punks Concrete Blonde, supported Peter Murphy during the peak of their album “Starfish.” I also celebrated with them during the album’s 30th-anniversary show at the Regent Theater, where they performed the entire album in the first set and, after a brief intermission, returned for a mixed set of their other music. I appreciate the format of their recent tours, which consists of two full sets and an encore, without an opening band. This format allows them to not only showcase their hits and new material but also delve into some lesser-known tracks.
The new material from “Hypnogogue” sounded fantastic live and seamlessly blended with their existing repertoire. The album itself is a concept album, presenting a futuristic tale of a washed-up rock star who embarks on a journey from Antarctica to Korea to meet a scientist capable of extracting thoughts and converting them into songs. Kilbey took the time to explain the story behind the album and engaged with the audience throughout both sets, sharing stories and anecdotes. As a fan of concept albums, I appreciate the opportunity to follow a narrative through music, discovering characters and plotlines within the lyrics or the mood of the songs.
Learning about the album’s concept prompted me to revisit the music and lyrics to fully immerse myself in the story. Musically, “The Hypnogogue” evokes vivid, technicolor dreams, akin to a simple movie reminiscent of David Bowie’s “The Man Who Fell to Earth.” The album maintains a psychedelic ambiance throughout without feeling outdated, captivating my imagination. Kilby and his team are consummate songwriters, and their skill shines through. During the show, they performed nine out of the album’s thirteen tracks, opening with “Ascendence,” which also serves as the album’s opening track. Given the album’s narrative nature, it’s possible that in the future, the band may present a full production of the album, similar to how Queensrÿche performed “Operation: Mindcrime,” The Who with “Tommy,” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” on past tours.
The band treated the audience to a total of 26 songs over two sets and an encore. Each set featured gems from their extensive discography, showcasing The Church’s ability to constantly evolve musically, akin to David Bowie. Kilby’s distinctive voice remains the only constant, while each album offers a unique musical journey. The Church masterfully balanced their new material with beloved classics and deep cuts, including “Destination” from the “Starfish” album, which holds a special place in my heart. They also played “Metropolis” from the “Gold Afternoon Fix” album and the captivating “Columbus” early in the set. A one-two punch from “Séance” featured “Fly” and “One Day.” A slowed-down rendition of “Is This Where You Live” harked back to their debut album, “Of Skins and Heart,” while “Comedown” from the mid-’90s “Magician Among the Spirits” album was one of the many highlights of the night. Of course, “Under the Milky Way” garnered the loudest applause from the crowd, being their most recognized song. The main set concluded with “Tantalized” from the “Heyday” album, followed by “Second Bridge,” the closing track from “The Hypnogogue,” before they waved to the crowd and left the stage amidst rapturous applause.
The band swiftly returned for an encore, performing “Reptile” from the “Starfish” album and closing the night with “You Took” from “The Blurred Crusade” album. It was an exceptional evening of music and performance, unequivocally demonstrating that even after 40 years and 26 albums, Steve Kilbey and The Church refuse to rely solely on nostalgia. The tour continues until November 1st and is an absolute must-see for fans and music enthusiasts alike.