The night started with shrieks. Well, back up. It actually started sedate. Opener Still Corners had cancelled at the last minute, due to visa issues*,” so we knew it would be a bit of a wait before headliner Chvrches came to the stage at Mezzanine. In the meantime, we stood around commenting how nice it was that there was no one under 21.
The show had originally been scheduled at the Rickshaw Stop, but when it sold out quickly, it was moved to Mezzanine, and anyone under drinking age was issued a refund. This meant there wasn’t the early crush of teenagers permanently camped out at the front of the stage.** I know, I know, it’s not nice to gloat over someone else’s exclusion. Maybe I forget about being that age and not understanding how I wouldn’t get to see my newest musical obsession live, just because the venue was 21+. I remember now, though, because twenty minutes before start time the other side of the spectrum arrived: the banshees.***
You know them. The kind of people who slip through the crowd, pretending their friend is just...over...there, until suddenly they stop in the gap you’ve made for them to pass, and you realize that their friends are actually behind them, daisy-chained along (and now standing on your feet). The kind that love, love, love each other (and are so glad they’re all here!) but don’t give a damn about anyone else. The kind that re-count how many free shots they’ve been given (not recount as in a great story, but re-count as in they can’t keep track of the actual number at this point).
The kind that seem a few penis straws short of a bachelorette party. The kind that -- when you supportively catch them mid-stumble and extricate them from the remaining inch between your date -- turn to their friends and act like you manhandled their pudenda. The kind that are (of course) joined by their moist, B.O. laden friend Owen****, who is the kind of guy that just happens to be surrounded by assholes all the time, since his breed of loud, shrieking belligerents has the perfect mix of self-awareness and obliviousness to make it seem like assholes surround them wherever they go. The kind of people who have to say, “Let’s not fight tonight.” *****
Obviously, it wasn’t really that bad, but whenever you wait extra long without an opener, the crowd starts to feel a bit hellish. In which case, Chvrches coming to the stage with a slow downed version of Prince’s reverent intro to “Let’s Go Crazy” was the perfect segue into the musical reward for our suffering:
We are gathered here today
To get through this thing called life
Electric word life
It means forever and that's a mighty long time
But I'm here to tell you
There's something else
The after world
A world of never ending happiness
You can always see the sun, day or night
Once on stage, the Scottish electronic pop trio started out with “Lies,” and the bright sharpness of singer Lauren Mayberry’s voice quickly pushed the shrillness of banshees out of mind. It has an instantaneous accessible quality to it that immediately hooks in and grabs attention, validating the lyrics “I can sell you lies, you can't get enough. Make a true believer of, anyone, anyone, anyone.” It goes a long way to explaining how, after posting just a few songs online, the group of Glaswegians has captured such attention.****** On “Recover,” played later in the evening to the crowd’s largest response, Mayberry sings with a monosyllabic attention, giving such clarity to the words that they hardly even matter. It could be the alphabet.
Refreshingly, this focus comes without grandstanding.******* Mayberry is rather stationary on stage, but the clarity of her iconically pop voice is by itself without pop-cliche affectations, dances or costumes.******** The band functions best as a unit. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty are the musical foundation, combining elements of post-punk and synthpop, updated with some trap elements (see: the intro to “The Mother We Share”).
Both act as multi-instrumentalists and backing vocalists on stage, with Doherty most notably giving a little oomph to chunky drum samples on the MPC, and Cook bringing his bass to the forefront on songs like “Lungs.” When Doherty took lead vocals for a song, his singing was a little more raw, a little more tender -- like early Bernard Sumner -- with a pleading stage presence and a more obvious Scottish accent.
After playing as much already released and new material as a band that hasn’t actually released an album could have -- with Doherty thanking the crowd for the largest headlining show they’ve ever done -- Chvrches returned to the stage (and the Purple One) for a cover of “I Would Die 4 U.”
*It always seems to be visa issues when a band cancels. Is that just the all-purpose excuse?
**The luxury of an empty bladder.
***The only reference to Scottish culture I’ll make, since sadly it’s all I know.
****He is always named Owen.
*****With emphasis on “tonight” because it happens frequently enough to be a normal occurrence.
******To the point that their first live show was reportedly already filled with label types and music journalists.
*******Choice quote: “As my mom says, we’re all the same, nobody’s special, we’re all shit.”
********So, pre-Madonna stage with a Madonna-esque voice, but not prima donna.