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For their second visit to Sydney in less than a year, Glasgow trio CHVRCHES have upgraded to a packed Metro Theatre, with fans eager to revel in their dulcet synth-pop sounds. The band is among a string of artists at Laneway Festival 2014 whose monolithic success comes off the back of a universally acclaimed debut LP. Placing them in the good company of Haim, Lorde, and Savages, CHVRCHES released their debut, The Bones of What You Believe, to a rapturous response last year.
For a soft-spoken, petite Scot, frontwoman Lauren Mayberry is a firecracker. On The Bones of What You Believe, her voice is pleasant, but live it carries right to the back of the room, piercing every punter on its course. Not an easy task, as she competes with the thudding synths and beats coming from her two counterparts, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty.
The band launched into We Sink and the crowd was immediately reminded that CHVRCHES don’t do niceties, as Mayberry sung “I’ll be a thorn in your side / Till you die” over a throbbing instrumental. Within minutes, they were onto Gun, with a chorus that proclaims, “I’ll be a gun / And it’s you I’ll come for”. It may not be the most joyful start to a set, but it was startlingly effective, helped along by euphoric, ’80s-inspired synths and bass-heavy percussion.
So immense was the wall of sound coming from the stage that it took a good part of the set for anybody to look away from Mayberry and start moving. During Lies, the crowd stared forward in unison as if under some kind of mind control. It’s a testament to how effective the visual element of the show is. The cruciform symbol from the album cover lit up the stage with an array of neon visuals, while strobe lights glared and dimmed the crowd with the ebbs and flows of the beat.
For every forceful, semi-violent moment, CHVRCHES provided a sentimental one. Recover was a sprawling triumph, lifted by Mayberry’s beautiful, crystal clear vocal. The chorus delivered a requisite goosebumps moment, aided by the track’s synth-laden dreamscape.
CHVRCHES delivery of such lyrically and sonically aggressive music makes it hard to attach the word pop to their name. Moments like Lungs, however, reminded one that hidden beneath the violent visage is a tender pop sensibility. During Lungs, everything was stripped away bar a shuddering yet sparse percussion line with a hint of vocal manipulation. What revealed itself was an unashamed, delectable melody that the crowd delighted in.
With the sea of heads finally moving, it felt like the show had really taken flight. During Tether’s sonic punch of a climax, it was impossible not to throw your arms up, while Under the Tide delivered a surprisingly compelling moment, led by Doherty’s vocals.
The Mother We Share was rightfully their best moment. It brought together everything that defines CHVRCHES: a hint of melancholy, a dose of angst, and a grand, dazzling chorus. After an hour-long set, The Mother We Share acted as a necessary reminder of just how many great hooks CHVRCHES have for a band in their infancy.
The shows could have been labeled a greatest hits tour and you would’ve left thinking the band have a rich back catalogue. It was difficult to believe that this was the offering of a band with only one album to their name.
Photo by Ashley Mar