CHVRCHES – Royal Albert Hall, London (31st March 2016) – LIVE REVIEW

CHVRCHES are about half way through a world conquering tour that started last September at the tiny Dome in Tufnell Park and filled London’s Alexandra Palace in November. They are zig-zagging between Europe and America, where later this month they play Las Vegas with Wolf Alice. Tonight, a couple of days before a rare show in their hometown of Glasgow at the SSE Hydro, they’re doing the Albert Sessions, when the Royal Albert Hall gives a band a debut – like BBC Introducing on a larger scale.

And CHVRCHES fill the Royal Albert Hall. They saturate the venerable old concert hall with a huge synth sound and Lauren Mayberry’s crystal clear, pitch perfect voice. “There’s people up, up, up… are you OK?” she asks, looking at the tall bank of stalls, tiers of boxes, the circle and higher. She’s four songs in, and doing one of her spells of banter with the audience, helped by asides from Iain Cook (synths, guitars) and Martin Doherty (synths, vocals).

Mayberry jokes that she nearly smashed into Doherty’s synth riser like something out of a “Marx Brothers-style skit – that was on purpose.” Someone in the audience shouts, “We love you,” and she responds, “Thanks. Maybe you’d love me more if I smacked my head.”  Cook chimes in, “Nothing’s more endearing than a gaping wound,” and Doherty adds, ”Is this an all-ages show, I apologise.Mayberry’s just about to explain the Glasgow slang when Cook says, “You’re the ones with dirty minds.” But even though Mayberry jokes that she is “actually holding the microphone like I’m doing stand-up”, their songs are what count, and Cook’s comment makes her think of  “I can feed your dirty mind” — a lyric from’ Lies’, a single from the first album, ‘The Bones Of What You Believe’. “Oh, we’re not even going to play that song,” Mayberry laments playfully, reflecting the audience’s disappointment that some tracks get dropped off setlists as time goes on.

The comedy comes after opener ‘Never Ending Circles’, which has a magical sparkly intro as the trio take to the stage before punching into full synth throttle, followed by the throbbing ‘Keep You On My Side’, the sequenced riffs of ‘We Sink’, and the multiple climaxes and abrupt ending of ‘Make Them Gold’ from second album “Every Open Eye’. The crowd claps, bobs and sings along. After the banter, ‘Empty Threat’ features Mayberry on drums, as quiet moments build back into loud choruses. Doherty’s measured performance of ‘High Enough To Carry You Over’ is just one of many moments that fills the Hall, bathing it in blue light. Mayberry stands still during the big bass and soaring electronica of ‘Tether’, allowing the music to speak for itself – a ballad that turns into a beautiful sequence of chords like Joy Division/New Order. Mayberry drums again on ‘Playing Dead’, which builds into a huge, industrial, dark piece, backed by red light.

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Darker still, ‘Science/Visions’ takes CHVRCHES into Krautrock territory. The sprung floor of the Hall’s arena actually bounces during ‘Gun’, as the crowd shout along. Another abrupt stop is the perfect preparation for the monster chords and drum machine of ‘Bury It’, an example of how Mayberry’s voice, married to synth riffs, adds a higher range to electro rooted in the lower registers to create a perfect pop track. 

The show’s climax starts with Doherty’s rendition of ‘Under The Tide’, a slowly pulsing and developing song that features Mayberry on synths and percussion. The atmosphere in the hall by now is rave meets west end club meets genteel indie pogo. ‘Recover’ erupts in wave after wave of synth, changes of pace, and bass arpeggios. Mayberry allows her voice to crack with emotion in ‘Leave A Trace’, letting go as a true performer needs to, especially in such famous surroundings.

She’s made the stage look small – running from side to side, jumping on and off platforms, spinning, whirling, punching the air, holding poses like Audrey Hepburn, using the full depth of a platform designed to accommodate an entire orchestra. The party peaks for ‘Clearest Blue’, the floor springing ever more violently as everyone is up on their feet dancing, even in the boxes. The mixing desk allows Mayberry’s phrases to echo around the hall as the pure electro-pop recalls the ’80s sound of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ by Depeche Mode.

The encore of ‘Afterglow’ starts almost as solo for Mayberry, her voice again emotionally charged, until monstrous pants-shaking synth chords strike a tone in keeping with the venue’s massive classical organ. ‘The Mother We Share’ also begins quietly, acappella style, but turns into a celebratory send-off. Mayberry calls the Royal Albert Hall a “fancy and iconic venue”. She may get used to the fact the carpet doesn’t stick to her shoes here, because CHVRCHES belong.

This CHVRCHES article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Photo by Chenfel