Wednesday, August 11, 1999

A tale of two shows... NYC

After a sensational week in New York City taking in both Monday and Tuesday night's shows, I've dragged myself back across the Atlantic and into work in London. It took a good couple of hours to trawl through my email amid the speculation and commentary on Steve's situation and private issues, but coming out the other side, I see that nobody has really had much to say about the shows.

I guess Monday night could largely be a ditto of many of the reviews from earlier shows... superb, awesome, magnificent, orgiastic. All of the superlatives were there in attendance. It took probably two or three songs for the band to really settle, but once they found their groove, and Steve had moved on from bantering with an over exuberant fan, they came together as a truly tightknit four piece band, merging as one to bring the Bowery Ballroom to life. The venue itself was perfect for the night. A stage layout providing perfect visibility for everyone in the crowd, an even, well balanced sound, an upstairs balcony for those desiring an aerial view, and a good size room with the all important bar at the back. To say that the band were playing to the converted would be an understatement. Everyone in the crowd seemed intimate with the band, many having seen them on the tour twelve months ago, having been fans for a long time. The venue was comfortably full, although the shows were not sold out, perhaps indicating the fluctuating fortunes and popularity of the Church over recent years. I recall clambering around the precarious old roof of The Venue in Melbourne some years back, along with a few intrepid friends, looking for a way in at a sell out show . We contemplated the drop through a skylight into a pitch black room below but eventually decided that spending the night in a dark, locked room at the back of the venue with two broken legs was not a particularly enjoyable way to spend an evening. That, accompanied by speculation of the following days newspaper headlines - "Church fans plummet to their death" - eventually led us to abandon the quest. This time a ticket purchase at the door was sufficient.

For me the highlights of the show were Tantalised - how does Marty play those rhythms so fast, a rockingly atmospheric Cortez, a chilling version of Endless Sea that leaves their recorded version for dead, and the sublime Tranquility - has Steve ever penned a more beautiful song. The main disappointment of the band playing only their more recent material is that Peter doesn't get as much opportunity to showcase his enormous talent, tending these days to play second fiddle to Marty, so to speak. Earlier material seemed to provide a more even balance - nothing surpassed Peter's live guitar breaks in An Interlude for pure guitar magic.

The set was long, the encores generous, and the crowd lapped it up. Some favourites were obviously missing, but with all of the previous reviews, everyone expected this, and everyone seemed to leave completely satisfied. I hadn't seen The Church live for five years, and that was not even the full band but Steve and Marty's acoustic duo. I was in bliss. I met several Seancers and stumbled clumsily around the band room for a couple of hours talking to whoever
was there - it's always a pleasure to meet anybody who is into The Church. Jay Dee Daugherty was at the gig and upstairs after the show, obviously still good friends with the band. Marty rushed over happily to see him and to tell him about his impending solo release which he seems very excited about.

After a seedy day of recovery, too late for the pre-gig meeting with fellow Seancers, I dragged myself back to the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night to find a bigger crowd than the previous night. The glamoured up glossy support band were finishing their set with Nena's 99 luftballoons in homage to I'm not sure exactly what. Church fans cringed one more time and then began the wait for the band to come on stage while a tape of The Ramones played. Feeling somewhat more subdued than the previous night, there was only so much of The Ramones that I could handle. Their one recycled song with the changing lyrics pumped out incessantly. As each song would finish, expectation filled the hall of The Church coming on stage. Instead, the next thrashy three chord number would blair out and the crowd were starting to get visibly restless. After about an hour that seemed to last an eternity, Marty made his way on to the stage and came gingerly over to the mike. He said that there was a bit of a problem and that Steve would not be here tonight. He was clearly very nervous and prompting from the crowd was not helping him in anyway, but rather making him draw the whole explanation out even longer. From his tone, when he said that Steve wouldn't make it, there was no doubt that it was something serious. His manner made me hope that he wasn't about to say that Steve was dead or injured somewhere. When he finally said that Steve had been arrested the crowd became hushed. Somebody shouted out "where are Peter and Tim?" to which he replied that they were not there either, and he didn't know when they would be along. With that he launched into an acoustic version of Ritz and hoped for the best, choosing the song, I suspect, because it is so long and he could delay having to decide what to do next. I wondered how the crowd would react. Would there be a clamouring for money back, would people just walk out? Mostly people murmured with those around them, or stared in silence contemplating the situation. After Ritz, Marty seemed at a loss as to what to do, although the crowd had clearly decided to support him in every way, cheering rapturously for him to play anything. Someone yelled for Spark and Marty couldn't remember exactly how it went, ignoring that suggestion, hoping instead for a flash of inspiration. He decided on 10,000 Miles and began to relax, exchanging quite a bit of chit chat with the crowd, suggesting that everybody in the venue was glad that they weren't him at that particular point in time. He rehearsed the song in a slightly embarrassed manner before playing a near perfect rendition of this old gem. By this stage the mood of the Bowery Ballroom had warmed and after another quick rehearsal and several humorous remarks, Marty played the beautiful She's King. On completion of that, Marty excused himself from the stage saying that Pete and Tim had arrived, and that he was going to go and have a little chat with them in which they would decide what to do. They would return soon in some form or another.

The crowd buzzed with the sense of excitement that equally surrounds a disaster or something particularly special. This night had both. When Marty, Pete and Tim returned, Marty was clearly relieved to have some company, and to hand over vocal duties to Peter for a while. Someone yelled out "Play Freebird" to which Pete replied "Free Steve". Marty excelled. His guitar playing was even more energy charged than normal and when he took over the vocal duties once more, he delivered powerful versions of Cortez and Endless Sea, the latter taking on a little extra meaning under the shadow of Steve's plight. Ward, the amiable tour manager, roadie, merchandise seller had been quickly elevated to bass guitar duties which he handled with aplomb. The crowd loved it, screaming that Ward was a God, and "We want Ward". Marty particularly seemed to be having a good time now, rushing on the adrenaline of having had to have taken on so much without preparation, and having delivered. Eventually the band were more or less yanked off stage by the Ballroom management for overrunning their time allotment to thundrous applause from a crowd that knew that they had experienced a special moment. Under extreme pressure, the boys had pulled it off plus more.

The scene in the bandroom after the show was significantly mellower than the evening before but boyuant nevertheless. Not as many had made an effort to go back there despite the fact that there was no security. On Monday night the room had been crowded and the place had been guarded like Fort Knox. The obvious topic for discussion tonight was Steve's fate. Would he be deported? Would he ever be allowed back into the US again with a drug conviction against his name? Pete seemed unfazed by the whole thing saying that it was easy, all Steve had to do was marry someone on the Wednesday and the authorities wouldn't be allowed to deport him. The solution seemed drastic, but potentially so did the situation. Chrispie meanwhile looked completely drained. He'd spent the whole gig getting lyrics off the CD and writing them down so that Marty could sing them. True dedication to the cause.

As we bid the guys farewell and wandered off into the calm New York City night, there were many things to reflect on. The show we'd just had the privilege of witnessing; relief that I'd also seen the full show the night before; chats with Pete, Tim and Marty; friends I'd made largely thanks to Seance; and then of course, thoughts of Steve. It always comes back to Steve.