In 1985, The Chills played a few nights at the very non-glamorous central Christchurch booze barn, The Carlton Hotel, and like I did for most bands on New Zealand's illustrious Flying Nun label at the time, I trudged down to check 'em out. I'd seen quite a few of their shows since their formation in the early '80s, but this one was different. They were always good, but this time I felt like something really special was happening, maybe even a kind of genius (much as I hate using that word).
This was the 9th or 10th lineup of the band, but this one - with original bass player Terry Moore back in the band, human metronome Alan Haig (later of Snapper) on drums, and colorful keyboardist Peter Allison - was the one where it all fell into place for me and the other over-capacity 500-odd people there (Fire code? What fire code?). They moved from their most quiet moments (delicate pieces of Beatles-y/Left Banke/Summer of Love-style whimsical psych) to an increasingly roaring cacophonous sound that filled the bar (and my poor ears) with awe. Where was it coming from? With only one guitarist? (There's still largely unrecorded songs from this period, like "Frozen Fountain" and "Silhouette," that would wipe away once and for all the notion that the band was the "poppy" Flying Nun band.)
Martin Phillipps was the songwriter, guitarist, and autocrat of the band, and, although he would never be accused of being the most alpha of males, was directing the traffic that night just as single-mindedly as he directed the evolution of his band (check out In Love With These Times, Flying Nun founder Roger Shepherd's excellent memoir, for a good take on Phillipps' rationale for the many lineup changes through the '80s and beyond). I knew Martin a little (mostly from a recent lengthy Steinlager-fueled interview at his Dunedin home, a consequence of my part-time gig as music writer for The Christchurch Press) and he was happy to admit he was fascinated by fantasy and comic books, but at the same time was fiercely adamant that The Chills were not just pure escapism...a claim backed up by the "Doledrums" 45 that addressed the dole (Government unemployment benefits) culture in NZ at the time.