After supporting Coldplay in Brazil and kicking off their own headline UK tour, Chvrches stopped off at Rock City where they received a typically enthusiastic Nottingham welcome...
“Hello, we’re a band called Chvrches - thank you for coming out to see us.”
Those were the understated words delivered by lead singer Lauren Mayberry, resplendent in a two-piece tartan outfit, as the band came to the energetic end of their first song of the night, He Said She Said. This characteristic modesty, coupled with an overarching sense of confidence, pretty much sums up the Glasgow synth-pop band’s set at a capacity Rock City last Friday.
Mayberry was reportedly feeling unwell for the gig, but there was absolutely no sign of that during the one hour twenty minute-long, crowd-pleasing performance which spanned all four of the band’s studio albums from the past ten years. She seemed to be in great form vocally, and displayed a really impressive control of the stage and the entire venue. After two more songs - the relentless, rhythmical Forever, which features on their 2018 album Love Is Dead, and Leave a Trace, from 2015’s Every Open Eye - it’s safe to say that Chvrches had comprehensively warmed up the crowd. It can take some bands a lot longer to pass that on-stage adrenaline-fuelled energy to the watching audience, particularly an audience of 2,000.
Chvrches have been criticised in the past for failing to properly realise the darker elements of their songwriting; for being too restrained, and perhaps too nice. But on Friday the balance was just right. Yes, Mayberry and the rest of the band (Iain Cook, Martin Doherty and tour drummer Jonny Scott) are clearly lovely people, and we all need more figures like this on stage at the moment; but they’re also eager for you to hear and participate in their songs, and not afraid to blast your ears, and rumble your organs, in the process.
All four of the band members seemed invested from the start, and, it has to be said, impressed with the reaction and the willingness of the Nottingham audience to respond. The level of control Mayberry quickly gained over the sea of people in front of her was seriously impressive; and in response, every invitation to raise hands or to clap was received with enthusiasm. This generated a feedback loop which allowed the collective experience to escalate quickly. By less than halfway through the set, the band had led us into a place of euphoric, cathartic release - a place it felt very good to be.
Where the studio versions of some Chvrches songs can err on the lighter side, these were transformed on stage by the use of Scott’s live drums (combined with loops), full-on synths and bass turned up to eleven. Bury It was a highlight - the metallic synth riffs ripping across the Rock City floor while Mayberry just seemed to soar over everything, hitting high falsetto notes without strain or shrillness.
This led nicely into the smoother, more sweeping sounds of California and then the deliciously dark How Not To Drown, two of the strongest tracks from their most recent album, Screen Violence. After Violent Delights, also from the same album, Chvrches took us back to 2013 for an outstanding performance of Science/Visions featuring gorgeous arpeggios and a slow, relentlessly measured build.
This opening third of the set felt very well curated. I realised at this point that we had been led, almost subconsciously, on a journey - the band had formed a neat story arc which contributed to that sense of togetherness which makes a live performance special.
From here, we skipped around the discography a bit, from Good Girls to Miracles to Night Sky, which felt a little more disjointed; perhaps the band needed to gather their energy a bit. But then Mayberry dashed off stage briefly, re-appearing in her Final Girl T-shirt to sing the song of the same name. This one had real impact, as the band powered through the irresistible building chord sequence of the chorus before allowing Mayberry to unleash herself in more of her trademark spins across the stage.
Back in time a decade next with Recover, which obviously came as a pleasant surprise to the loyal fans in the crowd, Mayberry delivering the chiming lines with hands aloft. Then there was a chance for some full-on crowd participation in Never Say Die (“Didn’t you say that?”), which was delivered with power-chords beefing up the synth lines, before a quick break and a three-song encore, Mayberry’s arms and T-shirt now drenched in fake blood.
That encore was a well-judged mini-set in itself, moving from the subtle opening and powerful climax of Asking for a Friend, through The Mother We Share and into the buzzy, upbeat Clearest Blue which got pretty much the whole of the main arena pogo-ing; meanwhile Mayberry surveyed the scene, crowned the undoubted queen of Rock City for the night.
This was a well-judged, carefully planned and confidently executed set by a band who are arguably at their peak, and keen to demonstrate their command of the stage. The fans were treated to a generous, memorable set, while the band themselves were rewarded by the kind of warm response which makes the Nottingham live music scene so special.
Chvrches played Rock City on 9 June 2023.
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