“Well, this is new,” observes Lauren Mayberry, pointing out the drummer seated behind her. But, while he brings a visceral power and hyperkinetic energy to the CHVRCHES live sound, adding Johnny Scott to their touring line-up certainly isn’t all that’s new tonight.
Only a few hours have passed since Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty released Love Is Dead, not just their first album in three years but also their first recorded with external producers. Without diluting their emotive electro-synth sound, the follow-up to 2015’s Every Open Eye feels bigger, poppier, and more confident.
Those changes come across during the Scottish trio’s only London headline show of the year, a bonafide celebration with a few hundred lucky fans in the venue (and the thousands live-streaming across the globe).
But, while the new LP is a concerted effort to crash into the mainstream, the self-deprecating way Mayberry deals with a couple of technical hitches early in the performance shows that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Dressed in a “cool kids belong together” T-shirt (and surely venue-supplied black Vans skate shoes), she freely admits the glittery heart stickers on her arms are intended as nipple covers.
“I joined the band because I wanted to do standup between the songs,” she deadpans at one point. Later, during a second extended between-song break, a perfectly timed throwaway line (“Synthesisers, eh? That seemed like a good idea at the time.”) suggests a potential future in comedy should this whole music thing not work out in the long term.
Chances are it will. Despite the quickly resolved synth snafus and Mayberry’s claim she’s been “sitting on the couch for a year, eating fatty food”, their live return is a smashing high-energy success.
The sparkling new songs, carefully crafted for Top 40 radio and stadiums the world over, sound massive in the intimate House Of Vans. The anthemic Get Out, which kicks off the 90-minute set, has two different, equally unforgettable choruses, a handclap rhythm designed for audience participation, and a message of empowerment, all conveyed with obvious joy by the four people on stage. The slower but no less uplifting Graffiti lets Mayberry stretch her voice further than ever before.
Latest single Miracle is clearly destined to be a live staple, the crowd almost drowning out Mayberry on the line “If you feel it, could you let me know” immediately before the titanic bass drop.
The effervescent Forever prompts involuntary bouncing amongst not just Mayberry but anyone within earshot. That’s in no small part due to Scott’s hard-hitting playing, which also boosts an emotionally charged Never Say Die and even prompts some frenzied air drumming from the singer during its big instrumental conclusion.
The older songs benefit equally from an additional musician in the live line-up. Bury It, with Cook swapping his banks of electronics for a bass guitar, swings as effortlessly as Mayberry spins on the spot. Gun fires a more lethal shot at the heart. The fist-pumping Lies gets a chest-pounding groove to match the singer’s hip-hop swagger.
Tether, which begins with Cook on guitar and ends with Mayberry cleaning spillage off the floor, really plays up its shifts in pace and intensity, especially Doherty’s breathtaking synth finale (perfectly complemented by the singer’s high kicks). Even Under The Tide, with Doherty taking his customary turn at the microphone, teems with self-assurance to match his eccentric dance moves.
But it’s the potent encore that best represents the new CHVRCHES. The Mother We Share begins with Mayberry and the entire audience singing along to a spare keyboard line, before Doherty plays that signature synth riff to bring in the entire band for a fresh take on their debut single. A pulsating Clearest Blue, with a titanic drum beat kicking in half way, sounds equally re-energised and bodes incredibly well for the next, and biggest yet, chapter in the CHVRCHES story.
Review of CHVRCHES at House Of Vans on 25th May 2018 by Nils van der Linden. Photography by Kalpesh Patel.
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