CHVRCHES’ synth-pop story (sounding like a reworking of Limahl’s Giorgio Moroder-produced Never Ending one in parts, come to think of it) continued with a stop at Leeds Met Uni on Sunday, where their joyous melodic electronica filled the poster-filled four walls of the SU. Adding flesh and skin to debut album ‘The Bones Of You’; the trio and one of “The Sounds Of 2013” live up to expectations, where singles ‘Lies’ and ‘Gun’ are greeted with just as much applause as the deep, dance grooves that rule other moments of the LP.
Bookended by digital wizards Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, Lauren Mayberry’s sweet, Scottish notes merge with the music even moreso than on recordings, making picking out lyrics a near-impossible task, but adding to that feeling that CHVRHCES are a three-way partnership; a hit-making machine, whose robotic rhythms can provide songs that sound like Example (‘Under The Tide’, with lead vocals from Doherty) and moments featuring samples and loops lifted straight from the 80s (‘We Sink’, ‘Gun’…). In fact, at times it’s almost as if Pet Shop Boys decided that the Dusty Springfield collaboration was so successful that they kept her a full time lead vocalist.
Working their way through a reshuffled version of their debut, the upbeat pop punches provide hit after hit, but it’s when things are slowed down slightly that elements that make up the band can be fully appreciated. ‘Tether’ begins life as sultry number, almost Lykke Li/Kleerup-esque in places, with a vocal only section in the middle allowing for the crowd to become the chorus (“I feel incapable of saying it’s over”), before sugary synths and a deep bassline kick-in, transforming the SU into the euphoria of a dance tent at a foreign festival. Even the lights on the upside-down V and the ‘7’ shaped keyboard stands (anyone unaware of the band could have been forgiven for thinking they were called 7A7) switch from multi-coloured flashes to simple, white flickers like stars in an otherwise pitch-black room.
Despite the odd technical hitch (meaning ‘Night Sky’ had to be cut from the set) and a false start elsewhere, it’s a near-faultless, almost non-stop night from a practically perfect pop album. ‘The Mother We Share’ closes the set (as expected) with the audience adding hand claps in various tempos, before an encore which is the only questionable moment (‘You Caught The Light’ after ‘The Mother…’ almost brings the tour de force to a stop and ‘By The Throat’ is a strong track, but the singles are stronger). Despite that, CHVRCHESs are an exciting act, making music that sounds like an eclectic electronic eccentric’s record collection, and making their own rules regarding keyboardists and lead vocalists swapping places and synth players striding to the front of the stage with a guitar round their neck. They’re keen to point out that their name has no religious context, but CHVRCHES’ sermon is one that will hold your attention throughout. Believe!
Support act SOAK – the first signing to CHVRCHES’ label ‘Goodbye Records’ – has earlier opened for the band. Armed only with an acoustic guitar, the 17 year old Derry born artist – born Bridie Monds-Watson – manages to encapsulate an audience just as her bosses do, but with an almost opposite technique. Her weapon is simply simplicity, but it holds the attention of an audience who have come to see synth-pop, with tracks including ‘Blud’ – which has since been remixed by CHVRCHES. With a knack for between-song banter – “Glasgow was wild last night but it’s kind of chilled in here… like a library” – and a seemingly effortless ability to write and perform, SOAK is a unique talent, and one whose sound is absorbed by the audience.