This CHVRCHES article was written by Ian Bourne, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse. Header image by Rachael Wright.
CHVRCHES’ rise to international fame is meteoric. No sooner have they sold out Alexandra Palace, packed with over 10,000 fans, than they book the Royal Albert Hall. That’s the venue chosen by legends such as Echo and the Bunnymen, The Cure, Damon Albarn and PJ Harvey. Just two months ago, GIGsoup reviewed the CHVRCHES album launch show at the tiny Tufnell Park Dome. They then went on a massive 50-concert tour of Europe and America, which ends at this London gig. Some bands would crumble in the face of such a rapid ascent. Joy Division sadly ended when Ian Curtis took his own life ahead of a frightening US tour. But CHVRCHES have kept their feet firmly rooted in the Glasgow basement where they record their electronic grooves.
They choose support acts that share their love of electronics. At the Dome in September, fellow Glaswegian HQFU warmed up the tiny crowd with a great set of angry and beautiful electronica. At Ally Pally, Four Tet delivers a challenging bass-heavy wave of shuffling, floating EDM and trance. He largely eschews the Hindu found-song beauty of this year’s ‘Evening Side/Moring Side’, but does introduce subtle chanting voices among the big chords and difficult transitions of his danceable set. Pockets of people groove to his complex repetitive beats.
CHVRCHES appear amid twinkling lights and a quiet taped intro, then burst splendidly into ‘Never Ending Circles’ from their second album ‘Every Open Eye’. The huge crowd is engaged and whooping from the start. ‘We Sink’ from the first LP follows, and thousands join in with the “say, say, say” backing lyrics. The pure synth bass makes trouser legs shake irresistibly.
One point about seeing CHVRCHES in a huge hall with a massive sound system is that the speakers make electronic compositions such as ‘Keep You On My Side’ sound way better than they ever could on your MP3 player. ‘Lies’ from first album ‘The Bones of What You Believe’ is slower, darker, churning and heavier. And ‘Make Them Gold’ from the new album is pure euro-synth ecstasy.
Lauren Mayberry notes that “this is our biggest headline show ever, so the stage is bigger, but I’m still getting tangled up in my mess.” After sorting out her microphone cables, she introduces ‘Empty Threat’ as a “new song” before taking to her mini drum kit, but everyone in the audience has already heard it. “We are authentic humans, so if I was like, ‘How are you fucking feeling tonight’, it wouldn’t work,” says Mayberry, contrasting her banter to, say, Motley Crue’s stage presence. “I should move on,” she corrects herself, or otherwise the headlines will be “Heinous feminist bitch screams at fans and slags off Motley Crue.”
‘Tether’ follows, getting a pogo and a sing-along from the crowd, before ending with beautiful Joy Division/New Order chords, then ‘Playing Dead,’ again with Mayberry on drums, before the krautrock of ‘Science/Visions’. Mayberry jokes that after the gig she’ll go and watch Netflix in her pyjamas and isn’t drinking onstage, despite it being a Friday at the end of a massive tour, unlike band members Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. After a bit of Scottish banter, the trio burst into ‘Gun’ amid mass crowd participation. ‘Bury It’ has echoes of Depeche Mode and Mayberry gets the crowd going by twirling like a dervish.
Doherty’s star turn as vocalist on ‘Under the Tide’ stokes up the enthusiasm, then ‘Recover’ and ‘Leave a Trace’ are simply great and beautiful. “I want a vegetarian pie and pint,” says Mayberry ahead of closer ‘Clearest Blue’, which is like Depeche Mode in their best synth-pop era. Coming back for the encore, she says the pies weren’t ready. “I don’t actually like pie.” She was talking about pies for comic effect. “That’s the secret of stand-up. Stand-up is technically related to your real life, but it’s ‘other’,” she says. She then hits her best vocal moment with the sumptuous ‘Afterglow’, against monster synth chords. The night ends, as usual, with mass audience participation for breakthrough track ‘The Mother We Share’. The show feels like one of those moments when a band comes of age. CHVRCHES have reached a new level of success and celebrity.