Glasgow’s hard-working synth-pop frontrunners Chvrches are approaching the end of their first decade as a band. Over that time they have had what seems to be a continuously busy international schedule. Perhaps the enforced breaks and countless postponements gave them an opportunity to reflect on that time. This has culminated in the release of an album that singer Lauren Mayberry describes later in tonight’s set as a “very miserable record”. With this, their 4th effort, ‘Screen Violence’, their live performance on this tour serves as both a refresher to what Chvrches excel at and a chance to give the LP a platform to grow on.
When the band first emerge onto the stage they make an immediate visual impact with a large screen displaying static and grainy movie footage as ‘He Said She Said’ begins the evening with Lauren twirling across the width of the stage wearing a red sparkly high-shouldered outfit which she jokes has been causing her difficulties going through doorways backstage.
The rest of the band take their initial positions on a riser at the back of the stage with multi-instrumentalists Iain Cook and Martin Doherty stationed behind synths at either side of touring drummer Jonny Scott, but they’ll just as effectively strap on a guitar and join Lauren at the front when necessary, such as on the 80’s-flavoured pure pop of ‘Forever’ or the cinematic ‘California’. Lauren is also happy to engage with the crowd when she can, coming down to take a closer look at a placard held by a fan on the barrier and telling them “I appreciate that!”
How Not To Drown with Robert Smith
Having mastered the art of balancing the gloomy with the uplifting, maybe it’s no surprise the band have attracted the interest of The Cure’s frontman Robert Smith. He appears on the studio version of recent single ‘How Not To Drown’ and made a guest appearance at the band’s previous show in London. He’s not in Birmingham tonight, but Lauren’s got a confession to make. “We’re on the second day of the worst hangovers of our lives because Robert Smith wanted to take us out drinking and how do you say no to that?”. luckily if they’re suffering there’s no obvious signs to suggest it. Lauren manages both sets of vocals on the duet expertly whilst Martin takes his place behind a small piano which is brought down a little closer.
The band’s electronic element is played up on the dark and club-friendly ‘Science/Visions’ as well as in a different way on the poppier ‘Good Girls’ and old favourite ‘Bury It’ which combine retro synth sounds with modern pop and an emo-tinged flavour that draws comparisons to Paramore’s more commercially-minded later material, plus a welcome return to the set for debut album track ‘Night Sky’ adds a little extra spice to the setlist.
Perhaps the climax of the set comes with the new album’s highlight ‘Final Girl’ which features a soaring melodic chorus and clever bassline and sees Lauren head offstage to change into a white t-shirt bearing the song’s title to signify the approach of the set’s closing act. The crowd reception steps up a gear for early single ‘Recover’ and Lauren encourages the audience to sing along to ‘Never Say Die’ before the band leave the stage.
For the encore, we’re treated to something special as Lauren returns covered in fake blood to complete the slasher-flick concept that goes along with the new album’s title and an excellent rendition of ‘Asking For A Friend’ is backed up with big singles ‘The Mother We Share’ and ‘Clearest Blue’. So where do Chvrches stand now as they return to action, a decade into their career with international demand and four albums of material to present? Certainly they’ve proved their worth as a not-to-be-missed live act over the years, but thrillingly you get the impression they could go in absolutely any direction with their next steps and still excel.
In contrast to the epic cinematic Chvrches experience, supporting act HighSchool come with a much more lo-fi approach which blends the jangle-pop indie sound of The Smiths and The Cure with the laid-back style of The Strokes or Interpol, largely thanks to vocalist Rory’s drawled lyrics and the use of reverb-laden guitars. Tracks like ‘New York, Paris And London’, ‘De Facto’ and closer ‘Only A Dream’ are memorable and well-written but the use of a (decidedly quiet) drum machine in the live setting does result in a lack of dynamics which detracts from the songs noticeably.
The crowd give a mild reaction and things simply don’t seem to quite click tonight, but the band soldier on and you get the idea that on another night with another crowd things could be different. They’ll no doubt get another chance to impress and hopefully next time they’ll take it.
Photographs by Ian Dunn
Review by Ian Paget