Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Chvrches / SOAK @ The Institute, Monday 10th March 2014

I’m sure there’s a great reason why Chvrches spell their name that way, even if it does send the old spellchecker into a full on meltdown. Hold on...I’ll look it up. Right, apparently it’s because if you put Churches into Google (other search engines are available...unless Google want to pay me £500,000 in which case GOOGLE ROCKS) all you get are loads of websites to do with ding dong bells, Jesus, God and all that schnizzle kind of churches. As you’d reasonably expect I guess. Quite why they didn’t just choose a different name isn’t explained but we’ll let that lie...

Anyway support this evening came from SOAK, aka Bridie Monds-Watson (now that’s a name and a half), a 17 year old singer songwriter from Derry who’s already received oodles of press over the water in her native Ireland and is now attracting attention over here. Given Chvrches full on synth sound she’s an interesting choice for a support act but armed with just a guitar, half a dozen impressively mature self penned songs and a little of the ol’ Irish charm she manages to hold a reasonable portion of the crowd’s attention. Being a touch diminutive and hidden behind two large banks of synths (already in place for Chvrches’ set) it was difficult to see much of her during the performance (we were stood to one side of the stage), which is always a bit of an issue when you’re trying to connect with a performance/performer in any meaningful way. In a more intimate setting tunes like Sea Creatures and forthcoming single Blud (out on St Patrick’s Day...see what they did there...she’s Irish...St Patrick’s Day...geddit...GEDDIT???!!!!) would work oh so much better than they did this evening. Blud in particular has a pleasingly dreamy feel and a decent hooky chorus and if this is what’s she penning in her early teens it’s impressive stuff. 

Wrong artist and wrong setting this evening then, but well worth keeping an eye on.   

On to Chvrches then. Formed in Glasgow in 2011 they’re clearly in thrall to their mum’s and dad’s record collections, stuffed full of old Human League, early Depeche Mode, Eurythmics and Erasure albums no doubt. I say they, actually I think it’s only the lead singer that’s young. The blokes (well certainly one of them at least) is an old duffer like me who probably spent his pocket money on 7inch copies of Love Action from Woolies. Again as with Temples’ gig last week this harking back business has clearly won them fans from several different generations so tonight was another mix of OAPs (well, almost) and hip young things. Coming onstage to some truly fit inducing lights (SOAK had warned the epileptics to run for their lives bless her) the band kicked off with We Dive, in some ways an archetypal Chvrches track combining upbeat old skool synth sounds with more downbeat lyrics delivered in authentic Scottish accents...which always ramps up the dour-ness a notch or two. It’s no surprise to learn that one of the dudes in the band, Martin Doherty, played with wrist slitting post punk noise terrorists The Twilight Sad (also a ruddy great band) and, if you listen carefully, you can clearly hear the echoes of the Sad in some of Chvrches darker moments.

There wasn’t much time to ruminate on all this though as Lies crashed into life. A genius mix of light and shade, it’s the sound of Robyn, Swedish synthsters The Knife and granddaddy of the entire electro world Sir Gary Numan coming together in one glorious musical hadron collider. Boom. 

We had bass in da place too. In fact the bass was so booming a small collection of fillings soon pooled around those stood close enough to the speakers. Next up, and completing a trio of top notch opening tracks, Gun...a total shoe in for the theme tune to Working Girl 2 if ever they decide to make it. So far so positive but there were a few gripes. As with SOAK Chvrches vocalist Lauren Mayberry remained frustratingly obscured by keyboards for most of the set, sticking resolutely to her spot in the middle and centre of the stage. Fine for those standing dead centre but not so hot for everyone else plus, it has to be said, it doesn’t make for the most dynamic of live performances. Secondly, and maybe this is related, the crowd seemed fairly laid back about the whole thing. Sure there was applause in all the right places and a few hands in the air but some of this is pure bounce up and down and lose yourself in a moment stuff and there just wasn’t enough of this going on. Anyway, minor gripes over there’s still no disputing the beauty of Recover, one of Chvrches more low key numbers it’s perhaps the best chance to hear Lauren’s vocal, a beguiling mix of vulnerable child and kick ass Glaswegian 21st Century woman. A bone fide highlight.

As the gig went on there was a bit more banter and chat which perhaps warmed things up a little. The old “More canals than Venice” bit had seemingly been picked as the band’s fascinating fact about Birmingham, although the blokes were clearly more interested in the City spawning Black Sabbath...even if they resolutely refused to play War Pigs as an encore. Next time eh? Speaking of ‘the blokes’ Martin took over vocal duties for one track, Under The Tide, and injected some much needed oomph into proceedings. Employing the kind of dance moves last seen in the 60s courtesy of Freddie and the Dreamers the dude goes mental, emerging from behind the bank of keyboards and coming out to the front of the stage...not a notable thing in most gigs but a real novelty this evening. Sure his vocals might divide some audiences but judging by some of the comments flying around on the intermess this is one of the best bits of a live Chvrches show. I’m inclined to agree. Closing with The Mother We Share would’ve been a real ‘lighters in the air’ moment back in the day, this evening those that felt that way inclined just did the old waving the hands in the air thing. Better for your health no doubt but not quite as pretty.

Encore You Caught The Light was possibly the dullest part of the set (perhaps one of their cheeky cover versions would’ve been better here) but By The Throat lifted things a little ending a gig that came frustratingly close to greatness.  

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