Rob Dickinson alone was worth the price of admission. Touring to support his new solo album, Fresh Wine for the Horses, he played an acoustic set at the Variety Playhouse in support of The Church.
We arrived just as he was beginning his set. He opened with a Catherine Wheel song, "Heal 2" , and I have to say, I liked the acoustic version better than the released version of the song. He made his way through a variety of his solo material and songs originally recorded by The Catherine Wheel. I was surprised by how well the Catherine Wheel material translated to an acoustic treatment. Some of the notable songs off his solo album were "Oceans", "Handsome", and "My Name is Love."
Of course, there was plenty of older material as well, including "Futureboy", "Black Metallic", and "Crank". I never thought I'd hear "Crank" at an acoustic show, but he pulled it off and it retained the same intensity as the studio version of the song. All in all, the set sounded like an acoustic Catherine Wheel session, including the same wall of sound and alternating quick and loud portions of song. The audience ate it up. All the merch sold out quickly between sets.
Then there was The Church. Ah yes. The Church. This will likely surprise many of you, but for as long as I've loved this band, this was the first time I've actually got to see them live. To be quite honest, I'm not very familiar with their recent catalog of work, but I found a lot to like anyways. While about half of the songs during the two hour set were somewhat unknown to me, I still enjoyed them anyway because the band are such consumate musicians--not afraid to take an older song and blow it up to rebuild it from scratch.
Messrs. Kilbey, Koppes, and Wilson-Piper were certainly on their game last night, playing musical chairs with the instruments as they proceeded through the set. Over the course of the evening, they played songs that spanned the entirety of their long musical career--moving comfortably back and forth between songs from the late 80s to their new material and songs from the late 90s.
Given the era that I'm familiar with, there were still quite a few songs that stood out to me. The first would have to be their flamenco re-imagining of two songs from Gold Afternoon Fix: "Metropolis" and the Elizabethan inspired version of "Grind". Reaching a bit further back, they played a wonderful version of "A New Season" from Starfish [Ed. Note: Please tell me you already own this]. Their version of "Tristesse" from Heyday was a bit less to my likely, but that's just quibbling at this point.
The next to last song before the encore, of course, was their song--in the same way that "Love Will Tear Us Apart" is Joy Division's. Steve Kilby gave what may have been the best introduction to a particular song that I've ever heard at a concert: "A long time ago I wrote a nice little song, and people liked it... It went on to sleep with producers in Hollywood to get in the movies like the one with the bunny and it finally ended up on the OC, at which point my 15 old daughter finally said, 'Dad you're like this cool after all" [Ed. Note: paraphrase of course]. Then they launched into a incredible version of the song they must be sick to death of, "Under the Milky Way".
Then the encores. For the first, they chose the oldest song in their catalog, "The Unguarded Moment" and were joined for most of the song by the audience. Rob Dickinson then joined them for the final songs. For their single song on the second encore they played "Constant in Opal" from Remote Luxury. You could have knocked me over with a feather. And play it they did. Without visual confirmation, I'd never have believed that there wasn't an electric guitar to be found on stage (the whole evening really). Spicing it up with some Patti Smith ("Because the Night"), they totally turned the song into a barn-burning, rocking show stopper and ender.
It was worth the wait really.
Minor quibble: they didn't play "Hotel Womb." (And I feel bad even writing that the show was so good.)