Even in their heyday (1988's Starfish tour), the Church didn't command a particularly large audience Stateside, and now, in 1999, I was among probably seventy people who showed up to see them. Something told me that this is the way that they'd always preferred it; frontman Steve Kilbey was outside the front door drinking a beer when we showed up, sullen and standoffish as usual, but surprisingly, jovial enough to return my greeting: "Hey."
Marty Willson-Piper, by comparison, was manic and ebullient, sitting down at our table, greeting by name fans whom he recognized from previous tours and bumming smokes off of them. His demeanor, presence, and gregariousness alone made the night.
After more than an hour's worth of two separate opening acts, the trio took the stage in what would turn out to be a rather tragic undertaking. The sound cut out intermittently, and each time the band would get more irritated with the venue; when a drunk flung a bottle at Kilbey during Anaesthesia, the show nearly ended, but the rest of the audience saved the show by immediately setting upon him in a rather nasty fashion. The mike stands proved to be rather awkward, collapsing twice during Buffalo, prompting Kilbey to snottily quip, "It's amazing they won the war."
Respite: everything came together well enough for Grind, The endless sea, Louisiana, Friction, and Two places at once to come out without incident -- the boys got into the flow; Kilbey relaxed, and Willson-Piper, magnanimous, busted out the e-bow for Destination, and I was able to cross Number Eleven off of my list of Things To Do Before I Die by hearing a live rendition of Myrrh, standing not five feet from the band. Something magical: Koppes actually smiled and joked with Willson-Piper during the song, which I understand to be quite a rarity.
And then it all came crashing down, literally: Willson-Piper's mic stand collapsed during Tantalized, and he kicked it into the audience, where it struck a woman on the way off the stage. That did it; Willson-Piper threw his Stratocaster to the floor, lit up a cigarette, and walked off mid-song; Kilbey looked like he'd been not so much expecting this tantrum as waiting for it, and, glowering at the sound engineer somewhere in the back of the room, walked off too. Koppes looked pained, and mouthing something that was probably half-apology, followed them off-stage.
Figuring one good turn deserves another, I stole the playlist taped to the stage floor, and was immediately sorry for having done it; I found that we'd been robbed, in addition to a complete rendition of the fine Tantalized, the songs Day of the Dead, Reptile, and a cover of Neil Young's Cortez the killer.
No encore. No autographs. Nobody got into the back room that night; we all made our lonely ways back home.