As CHVRCHES front woman Lauren Mayberry surveys a sold-out Shepherd’s Bush Empire with evident disbelief, it’s impossible not to be heartened by her awestruck greeting tonight; “we are CHVRCHES and we are playing here. That is amazing. Thank you so much.”
Their humble charm may be one of the Glasweigan electro-popper’s most loveable qualities, but it’s certainly not their most prominent. Anyone who’s been feasting upon their debut album The Bones of What You Believe, released a month ago, will assert that this trio also have tunes, and they have them in spades. In the year and a half since CHVRCHES sent their first single ‘Lies’ to London label Neon Gold, people have fallen in droves to worship at their glimmering, strobe-lit alter, but the band still seem surprised by just how quickly things have gathered steam. Tonight they appear almost daunted by the size of their platform and while beat makers Iain Cook and Martin Doherty beaver away behind keyboards, it’s left to Mayberry’s diminutive frame to try and awkwardly fill the rest of the space. A huge lighting structure of their motif looming behind her helps somewhat, but it’s clear she doesn’t quite know what to do with herself, especially during the instrumental, tranceier moments.
It’s no matter though. CHVRCHES are armed with songs written for arenas and it doesn’t matter that their stage presence doesn’t hold the same gravitas as their sound. Mayberry may be a tiny thing with a voice like spun-sugar, but she’s not to be underestimated (her recent outburst against online misogyny, posting an example of the many sexual propositions she receives on a daily basis, proved she’s no shrinking violet). Tonight she’s fighting the flu, even sipping honey and hot lemon during the colossal rave and colour burst at the end of ‘Tether’, but note-wise she’s faultless.
As are the band as a whole. Euphoric opener ‘We Sink’ is devastatingly catchy. ‘Night Sky’, which sounds thin and glittery on record, is a power-rush of visceral energy tonight. ‘Gun’, the band’s biggest nod to the 80’s, packs a huge punch behind crystalline gloss, and the chorus of ‘Recover’ rises like golden light up to the ceiling where a member of the crowd at the front of the balcony waves two glo-sticks as though conducting a synth-pop orchestra. ‘Lies’ of course remains their crowning glory, a dark slab of muscular and sinister electro backed by a pummelling bassline cribbed from Dizzee Rascal’s ‘Fix Up Look Sharp’ (he in turn robbed it from Billy Squires’‘The Big Beat’), although it’s the plush tones of ‘The Mother We Share’ that gets the biggest cheer of the night.
Still though, you can’t shake the feeling that CHVRCHES haven’t quite outgrown more intimate settings and it’s easy to forget that despite their musical proficiency, this is a band still very much in their fledgling stages. Towards the end of the set, the Martin-fronted ‘Under the Tide’ provides really the first real movement on stage but he doesn’t seem much more at ease with frontman status than Mayberry. There’s work to be done in that respect but until then we’ll have to accept that for now, CHVRCHES are just a band of ordinary people who make music that sounds extraordinary.
Words: Dannii Leivers
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