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Review Sun Oct 25 2015

I Probably Had Unreasonably High Expectations For CHVRCHES @ Metro

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Frankly, I'm shocked that CHVRCHES was playing Metro last night. Nothing against the legendary club, of course--as ever, it's an amazing place to see a show, and Lauren Mayberry heaped praise upon it between songs. But given the success of the band's 2015 LP Every Open Eye, their show-stopping performance at Pitchfork in July, and their arena-friendly sound, I would have expected them to fill up a bigger venue.

That was probably just me over-hyping the band in my own mind, though. I went into the show ready to have my brain completely melted. Sometimes that anticipation is a self-fulfilling prophecy, but tonight it was a setup for a small letdown. CHVRCHES played an excellent set for the most part, but a few flaws gnawed at me as the show wore on and they stayed my ready stamp of unconditional approval.

But first, Sydney-based trio Mansionair took the stage to a smattering of applause from the talkative crowd, and throughout their entire set the background noise never quite dissipated. And though an opener can never expect to hold the audience's undivided attention, the band could have helped its cause with a better, more engaging stage presence. Singer Jack Froggatt comes from the Matthew Bellamy school of emotive falsetto but has a ways to go to match the Muse frontman's magnetism. Currently, his most remarkable traits aside from his voice are his vague resemblance to a straight-haired Jon Snow and his shoegazey heaves to the beat of Mansionair's songs, which often call for more energetic behavior. Even the band's dreamy synth-pop is still synth-pop, and it should make the audience want to dance or at least groove out.

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With more experience on the road, I think that Mansionair's show will improve. As it stands now, though, the band has a bunch of really catchy songs that they're still learning how to play well live. "Falling" had an infectious hook that sounded like something off of Coldplay's Ghost Stories, and the trio was able to weave an intricate, dense, yet sensible tapestry of synthesizers, guitars, and drums on songs like "Wedding Ring," the sprawling "Shadows," and "Speak Easy," the band's newest single. But when Mansionair managed to foment an upwelling of ecstasy, as they did in the buildup on "Hold Me Down" or the breakdown of "Technicolor," they never quite managed to finish off the experience with the immense drop or soaring solo I hoped would come. Nevertheless, the crowd cheered warmly when the young Australians finished their set.

After the obligatory infinite pause to reset the stage, dancing lights of angelic beauty spangled the room and the headliners' roar filled the air as CHVRCHES walked out together to face the audience. This subtle show of solidarity increased my respect for a band that, despite the growing popularity (especially among men) of singer Lauren Mayberry, has refused to allow itself to be split by the media or by its fans. In fact, one of the highlights of the show came when Mayberry, the face and most prominent voice of the band, ceded the mic to synth player Martin Doherty for "Under the Tide." Freed from his bank of keyboards, he danced a mad dervish across the stage as he sang and the crowd reached its peak intensity, above any level to which Mayberry would take it all evening. I'm not sure whether to attribute this to the novelty of Doherty the frontman or the song itself, but if a concert is supposed to be about creating memorable moments, "Under the Tide" was the apex of CHVRCHES' performance.

IMG_6295.JPGThat said, Mayberry is an outstanding frontwoman. Her voice on Every Open Eye showcases a richer, more mature, more powerful tone than what she achieved on CHVRCHES' 2013 debut The Bones of What You Believe, approaching a level of rock goddess that she was able to repeatedly hit in concert. She flashed impressive range on "Leave a Trace," and on "Make Them Gold" she actually belted out the titular words--all the more remarkable, since someone with as high-pitched of a speaking voice as Mayberry's shouldn't be able to do that. Combined with how quickly she chattered between songs, mostly about the movie LOL starring Demi Moore and Miley Cyrus, it almost sounded like her voice was a sped-up recording rife with Scottish charm and an authentic friendliness. Lest she be called "cute," though, Mayberry became dead serious whenever the music would start back up, expertly reaching every corner of the room and literally putting herself up on a pedestal when she would summit the boxes at the front of the stage. She had a perfect gauge of each song's energy level and acted accordingly, from sinking down to her knees in quasi-prayer at the end of "Playing Dead" to her hair-whipping, skipping frenzy to start "Never Ending Circles."

Despite Mayberry's prowess, though, CHVRCHES' performance left something to be desired. They came out so hot for the first three songs--"Never Ending Circles" and "We Sink" so hypnotized me that I wrote no notes about either--that there wasn't enough room for the set's narrative to grow over the next fourteen. The two times that the mold was broken, by Iain Cook's nifty, ambient guitar work on "Tether" and Doherty's spotlight moment on "Under the Tide," provided the emotional highs for the rest of the show; as well as Mayberry sang, as engaging as she was, and as impeccably as Cook and Doherty played their massive keyboard lines behind her, the songs settled into a trite routine around halfway through the set. And I think the audience felt it--I thought I'd see a frenzied, dancing mob, but many of the attendees didn't even clap or raise their arms whenever CHVRCHES modeled the desired behavior onstage.

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The set ended with the band's version of a rocker playing solo on acoustic guitar (Mayberry bathed in heavenly light singing "Afterglow," a Broadway soliloquy of a song) and their megahit "The Mother We Share," which sounded sparser and colder than I hoped it would. Perhaps it was a symptom of the evening's overall slightly off-kilter tenor. But it also could have been a manifestation of my insanely lofty standards for the band's show. I'm not even sure how CHVRCHES could have kept things fresher, particularly with Cook and Doherty's stage movements being so limited by their synthesizer prisons.

Maybe a New Year's Eve crowd will help. They'll be back in the city on December 30th, and hopefully they'll spread their show's energy more evenly across its span.

 
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Rich Viola / October 26, 2015 4:37 PM

While everyone is entitled to their opinion, I'd just like to note a couple things. You expressed your surprise that the band was playing this venue - I too was shocked to see them return here. But it has nothing to do with their popularity, as you would notice that a show this size in a market this big is definitely an anomaly on this tour, not the norm. The stage was so small that a significant portion of the lighting setup had to be removed, and the band had to change their usual stage entrance.

For someone so hyped about the show, I'm a bit puzzled as to why you'd select such a blah spot, especially when it was quite easy to get a decent floor spot. I can't imagine the sound was exactly flawless up there (it was fantastic on the floor). Speaking of the floor, you kind of suggest that the lukewarm audience response is the band's fault. A Chicago crowd is a Chicago crowd. I've seen this band a bunch of times here, and the response was probably above average. It doesn't mean that CHVRCHES didn't put on a great show. From what I've seen, many Chicago fans come to shows to talk and drink. What else is new?

Third time seeing them on this tour (fifth if you count Bluesfest and Pitchfork), and this was the best.

Zach BlumenfeldAuthor Profile Page / October 27, 2015 10:06 AM

Hi Rich, thanks for your comment and your different perspective on the show, which is really important for anyone reading this review. The reason I was in a "blah" spot is because that's the section of the balcony Metro ropes off for the press. The experience absolutely would have been different from the floor. That said, Thalia Hall does the same thing as Metro and I was still astounded by Noah Gundersen there in September.
Honestly, my review of CHVRCHES was definitely colored by the fact that earlier in the day I had the opportunity to watch Taylor Swift's old live music producer "make over" a band's live set at a musicians' conference, then spent an hour interviewing him afterwards. The guy specializes in critiquing every aspect of a band's performance, so talking to him put me in a really nitpicky mindset. As I said in the review, CHVRCHES was still awesome--it's just that from where I sat and what I was looking for, they could have been even better.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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