Review – CHVRCHES bring Birmingham to it’s knees with angelic flair and devilish energy
Any avid music fan will know that 2018 was a busy year for the medium and for a band sitting in the reasonably niche genre of synth-pop, it was great to see CHVRCHES’ album “Love Is Dead” stand out. The album leaned more towards pop than their past releases and, despite mixed reviews because of this, it’s done the band more good than harm. After collaborating with FIFA, announcing a headline US tour, a slot at Coachella and releasing an acoustic EP (a rare move for any electronic artist), you can’t attend their sold-out, second night at the O2 Academy in Birmingham without feeling proud of them. Although shortly before CHVRCHES took centre stage, Let’s Eat Grandma delivered an opening set that I’m still in awe of.
Having listened to I’m All Ears beforehand, I was interested to see how their unique take on pop would translate to a live setting. So when great blue strobe lights illuminated the venue and the sharp bass hits of set-opener Whitewater shook the room, I was instantly captivated. They began their set with Hot Pink, complete with SOPHIE’s production that tears through the room; I was surprised by the depth of sound that came from just two synths and a drumkit, unprepared for the range they would soon demonstrate. Across their set they produced a saxophone, xylophone and even a recorder from seemingly nowhere and still found the time to break into the macarena mid-song. It’s an awesome, memorable introduction to an experimental group that are wildly unpredictable, but consistently exciting.
Once Let’s Eat Grandma left the stage and became my all-time favourite supporting performance, I spent the majority of the intermission wondering how CHVRCHES could top it. But once I saw the lights above me being tested, I was reminded of synth-pop’s neon aesthetic, piquing excitement for what the set could bring visually as well as musically. In just a matter of moments my expectations were met as an array of lights doubled the size of the academy to make room for CHVRCHES’ signature synth-work. As the band took stage, the crowd erupted into cheers as their bassy, futuristc intro rumbled before a robotic voice pronounced “love is dead”, the dystopian declaration on which their latest release was built on. With the band ready behind a dual set of neon crosses and Lauren’s arms stretched, CHVRCHES were ready to rock Birmingham.
From the get-go in their opener Get Out, you can see the band’s enjoyment when preforming live, leading lady Lauren Mayberry was especially energetic. As she sung with angelic flair, twirled around the stage at every drop and lifted the microphone stand over the crowd while singing along with them, her stage presence and passion was just as impressive as the audience she was sharing it with. I was equally impressed when Lauren handed the mic to bandmate Martin Doherty swapping synths for singing.
It was also this moment that made me appreciate the breadth of the band’s talent; the crispness of the acoustic drums in the back, the rawness of the analogue synths at the front and how Lauren’s high notes glossed over them with no interference. The band were simultaneously able to bring out electric guitars, rarely used in any electronic genre, for rock-inspired solos that never felt out of place. The overall setlist was a great mix of light pop, dark techno and glistening ambient cuts that showed the crowd a band that wasn’t afraid to explore all corners of electronica.
Similarly, the between-song banter showed how candid the band were with their fans, discussing creepy Netflix shows and ranking Whitney Houston covers. It’s a unique intimacy that gives CHVRCHES a genuine personality in a genre known for quieter acts that let the music speak for them. As the setlist reaches its end, sporting the band’s best hits, Recover, Clearest Blue and The Mother We Share, the maximalist synths and sparkling energy of pop fused to radiate an undeniable energy across the venue and as the crowd goes into a dance frenzy and Lauren punches the air, that you can’t help but join in.
The concert was a stunning array of talent, a pulsating testament to the range permitted by a genre that took the world by storm in the 1980’s and while the flame of electronic music has dwindled since then, CHVRCHES know exactly how to re-ignite it.
Written by Niall Evans. Photography by Joana Cesar.