LIVE REVIEW: Chvrches @ Mercury Lounge 3-18-13

OUT & ABOUT|Show Reviews

Imagine being an unassuming electropop band from Scotland.  You get together with your mates and nonchalantly make a few tracks, posting them on soundcloud because it seems to go well.  But then the Guardian notices.  BBC notices.  Pitchfork notices.  Sirius XMU starts playing your songs, to your delight and surprise.  On the strength of that, you book your first brief US tour, playing a handful of shows in Austin, which SXSW-goers rave about, and then head for New York to play a show that sold out so quickly more were immediately booked.  Those shows also sell out, almost instantly.  You make radio appearances.  You’re featured on every other music blog or blogging outlet.  Your first EP has yet to see release but Glassnote can barely put it out fast enough and the truth is, you have a whole album’s worth of smash-hit material for which your newfound fans are absolutely rabid.

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Chvrches at Mercury Lounge Monday night.
Chvrches at Mercury Lounge Monday night.

All of this is not so hard to imagine for Lauren Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty of Chvrches.  The band has done everything right, remaining humble in interviews and onstage when it would be easy to gloat about their “overnight” success.  The reality is that each musician has put in considerable time playing with other bands (the most successful of which being Doherty’s stint as touring keyboardist with The Twilight Sad), and although Chvrches as a project hasn’t been that long in the making, they’ve tapped into something worthy of all the buzz.  Most importantly, they’re not shy about working hard, willing to headline twice a night at Mercury Lounge and then play a show at 285 Kent the next day.  Rather than complain, they seem grateful for the opportunity, incredulous that anyone has noticed let alone given a damn.

But take a listen to “Lies” or “The Mother We Share” or newest cut “Recover” and it’s easy to hear why everyone’s losing it over Chvrches: glossy production, shimmering synths, dance-ready beats with sometimes whimsical flourishes, and aggressively sweet vocals that bounce along casually but deliver more weighty lyrical content than such glistening pop usually provides.  Oftentimes, those lyrics focus on the emotional rift between two people and the sadness therein, but there’s always a suggestion of hope that things can be repaired.  Bright percussion, playful loops, and keys alternating between airy and surging only help to emphasize that mission statement.

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Mayberry and Cook doin’ the thing.

In a live setting, these elements are amplified tenfold, and the band as a whole has charisma that somehow manages to go beyond Mayberry’s apt persona as front woman.  She is tiny and adorable and chicly stylish – sometimes wearing extravagant makeup but otherwise keeping it simple – but it seems dismissive to admit these things when you consider that she’s a brilliant pop songwriter, has a law degree and a master in journalism, and helps run the feminist collective TYCI.  At the late Mercury Lounge show, she sipped tea and invited the audience to pretend it was a “huge beer” and in the next breath voiced concern that someone might put something in it, with the ominous warning “roofies are real”.  She also expressed disgust over Michelle Shocked’s recent gay-bashing outburst, and befuddlement as to why there is peanut butter in everything the band has eaten stateside.  Her intelligence and wit, and how those threads appear in Chvrches’ songs are what make her truly captivating.

At the same time, Cook and Doherty demand equal focus, providing back-up vocals on several tracks.  Cook shifts impressively between guitar-weilding and manning the fortress of synths that surround him, while Doherty lays down drum-machine beats that he himself can’t help but dance to.  During the band’s second-to-last song, an unreleased track called “Tide”, Doherty and Mayberry switched rolls, Doherty taking front-and-center with his own yearning vocals.  It was a nice shift that left me longing for the band to do a track where the two alternate from verse-to-verse.  There are just so many places for this band to take their sound, all of them promising, that it’s impossible not to be excited by the prospect of a proper LP.

Chvrches haven’t been around long but their set proves they’re more than ready for a full-length release.  They covered Prince during the encore but the rest of the set was heavy with original pop masterpieces, any glittering gem of which could be single material.  I particularly liked “If We Sink”, the refrain promising “I’ll be on your side ’til you die / I’ll be on your side for all time”, the rhythms kinetic and the energy reminiscent of M83 (and yes, of The Knife’s early work, oft cited in direct comparison).

Immediately after the show ended, I wanted more.  I wanted to put on headphones and spend my train ride home listening again and again to songs that haven’t yet seen the light of day (unless you count the outside stages of SXSW, but I’m not speaking so literally here).  I saw my whole summer unfold and in it, I was dancing to Chvrches, unable to get enough.  If the sold-out crowds and legions of fans waiting patiently for Chvrches to make their next move are an indication, Chvrches will humbly provide for our cravings and I won’t be dancing alone.

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