I was slightly cynical before attending Chvrches largest London headline show to date, having previously seen them play Laneway in Auckland in 2014, where they had been promoted to headliner after Lorde dropped out. At the time they didn’t quite seem headline material, even for an indie festival such as Laneway, and a minimal stage set up and technical issues in my eyes confirmed this to be the case. With their latest album, Every Open Eye being a strong follow up to The Bones Of What You Believe, and their fan-base only growing in size and dedication, it seemed there were enough reasons in the lead up to the Alexander Palace show to believe that Chvrches now have what it takes.
Alexander Palace, with it’s standing capacity of 7,300 is not a small venue. Chvrches has sold this out, which is perhaps an indication of their rising popularity. The audience was eclectic, not being dominated by teenagers or indie kids, but with a suitable proportion it seemed of over 40 year olds and casual concert goers, of both genders. Gangs of lads could be spotted as could many couples, choosing this band for the soundtrack to their courtship. It seems Chvrches are a band that crosses demographics.
The opening acts were equally eclectic, with Australian indie-EDM cross-over act Mansionair opening proceedings. There drummer was particularly notable, backing up layers of melodic synths and reverb heavy chords with jazzy rhythms and the expected drum machine sample. It was a fairly chilled beginning, before Four Tet took the stage with his intoxicating progressive house vibes, encouraging some welcome movement throughout the steadily growing crowd. It is perhaps notable to mention that the show ran like clock-work, with Chvrches taking to the stage exactly on their 9pm listed time.
The house lights went down and the Glasgow band emerged, with singer Lauren Mayberry’s presence causing the expected shrieks of excitement from their especially female fan-base. Wasting no time, Mayberry danced about the stage, leaping up on the fold-back’s and seemed a much more confident front-woman than at Laneway two years earlier. Opening track Never Ending Circles has some of the best hooks off the new album and provided an energetic opener. Her two bandmates, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook, were largely stuck on their podiums of synthesizers and samples, although 41 year old Cook occasionally left his podium to add live bass. Doherty gets turn front of stage later for a lead vocal cameo, with Mayberry showing her percussions skills, her drumming cameos being somewhat of a highlight.
The two massive screen’s either side of the band focused on Mayberry, making her a seem larger than life presence, in spite of her relatively slight real life stature. These screens also provided a glimpse into what was taking place behind Doherty and Cook’s podiums, giving evidence that they were in fact playing their synthesizers live – not just queuing backing tracks as could easily be assumed. The stage design has gone up a notch as well, though remaining understated, with three screens of colourful animations and an arena-sized lighting rig providing a visual accompaniment to the music. These production values are expected for a band of this size, but in my eyes greatly improved the shows sense of spectacle compared to that minimal Laneway performance. They are now suited to a venue the size of Alexander Palace, without completely giving themselves over to the excesses of mainstream pop live productions.
Although Chvrches are fast rising the ranks of indie fame, they continue to approach their pop career with modesty. This determination to stay down to earth shows itself particularly in Mayberry’s on stage persona, herself admitting during between song banter that she could never be a Motley Crue-type, crowd pleasing front-woman. Although asking the crowd later if they were having a great time, referencing the earlier self-deprecating banter, the crowd in turn responded with cheers, showing that if Mayberry was every to fully embrace the role of a rock performer, she would well have the capability. But perhaps Chvrches reluctance to embrace the fake side of rock and pop is what draws their fanbase towards them. At other points in the concert, Mayberry talked of her fear of becoming another headline, in light of recent onstage events becoming tabloid fodder. Regardless of what the journalists chose to write, the bands authenticity in songwriting and performance remains endearing and I think it is a large part of their appeal.
Most importantly, Chvrches have the hits, blitzing through big singalong moments such as Gun and We Sink off the first album, with new singles Empty Threat, Leave A Trace and Clearest Blue already being some of the biggest moments. Vocals are always impressive and the performance quality near identical to what is heard on the album (a good or bad thing depending on your appreciation of improvisation). Ending with the tender Afterglow, before signature anthem The Mother We Share, Chvrches prove they more than have the songwriting skills to be major headlining act. Compared to recent concerts I’ve attended of this genre which seemed slightly underwhelming, Purity Ring being one example, Chvrches are staking their claim as a major electronic pop live draw-card, and they have the evidence to prove it.