Editor’s note: check out the gallery below for more photos!
It’s been almost exactly a year since Scottish indie pop group CHVRCHES released their second full-length Every Open Eye, a record that gracefully avoided the dreaded sophomore slump by utilizing what worked for the trio on the first album, and what seems like will continue to work for them forever: Catchy pop hooks, bone-rattling synths, and Lauren Mayberry’s delightfully pure vocals.
Yet, it sounds like it comes to easily to them, but Martin Doherty previously assured us that it doesn’t, saying about working on the second album, “From the middle to the end of 2015 was a really difficult period because you have all this anticipation about whether people will receive your music in the same way, whether this new career that you’ve gotten used to and you’ve begun to enjoy and love is going to continue for another year, or if it’s going to be over in six months.”
Now it’s been twelve months, and as we watched the band continue to tour behind their year-old record in Portland, Maine, it became clear that “this new career” of theirs isn’t ephemeral in the slightest, because while electronic-based music can lend itself to a sense of artifice, CHVRCHES operates with such a sense of humility and humanity that they excel even in folly.
During the opening verse of “Afterglow,” which opened the encore, Mayberry messed up the lyrics, but caught herself and offered a quick, “Sorry, that was wrong.” Still, crowds love a good Saturday Night Live-style break if they can identify with the person who made the mistake, so the audience cheered as Mayberry bashfully waved her hands in front of her face and went on to nail the rest of the song. She’s a larger-than-life performer, but those who chatted with her at the record store meet-and-greet earlier that day saw that, hey, she’s just a person, and she’s great.
Mayberry also carries a bigger burden on stage than a lot of band leaders: Doherty and Iain Cook are largely trapped behind their Disclosure-like synth and keyboard modules, so she really has to command the stage and often, at least visually, be a one-person show. It’s a task she handles with great composure and enthusiasm, but she also isn’t the only dynamic stage presence in the group.
Doherty has sung lead vocals on a few CHVRCHES songs over the years, so for a couple songs, he and Mayberry switched roles, and out from behind the synths, Doherty is electric as a frontman. He has the vocal aptitude for it, and he’s fascinating to watch, dancing and hopping around his stage like a more restrained Tyler, The Creator. That’s no knock on Doherty, it’s just that this is Tyler, The Creator.
Their set was packed with highlights, but “Clearest Blue” is a bonafide showstopper. When I watched the band perform it on The Late Late Show with James Corden back in December, I was genuinely moved to tears in front of my laptop, and while I didn’t cry as they played it to cap their main set, it still made a tremendous impact. When the build of the song’s opening half finally bursts open, it felt like the volume of the world was turned up just to accommodate the song’s power.
CHVRCHES is an essential live act, and as I alluded to earlier, we were fortunate enough to speak with them a few months ago, so revisit that here, and take a look at photos from the band’s live show below.
Images: Derrick Rossignol