I considered myself extremely lucky when it came to Chvrches this year. I think I am one of the very few audience members who got to see both the first show of their US Tour (at Sasquatch! Festival) and the final, Tuesday night’s private performance for SiriusXM at the McKittrick Hotel, the same building where the popular interactive play Sleep No More is performed.
At Sasquatch! they were playing unfamiliar songs during an afternoon slot in the rain. I still remember Lauren Mayberry mentioning that they would have an album coming out at the end of the summer, though its quality would be anyone’s guess at the time. It’s a common thing for a band to fail to deliver the goods after a promising single or two. Besides, by the time that album finally came out the leaves would be changing. The only thing to grasp onto were those songs, which held an exciting promise, and the tremendous charisma of Mayberry, Iain Cook, and Martin Doherty, a trio that always surprises me with how humble, conversational, and silly they are on stage.
Once I finally heard an early copy of the album I couldn’t find a flaw on the thing. When the time came to for Stereogum’s annual Best New Bands Of The Year list, they were one of the first things that jumped to my mind. Even then I was impressed by how easily they sidestepped most of the difficulties that comes with bands who have such a meteoric rise:
Tracks like “Recover,” “The Mother We Share,” and “Gun” were a fierce combination of “Heartbeats”-era Knife romanticism and M83’s neon majesty with a heavenly force that is Lauren Mayberry’s voice. But let’s be honest — three great singles? Trendy influences? A promising EP? — all ingredients for countless buzz bands that quickly burn out. So it is a massive relief to find that Chvrches’ debut album is a stunner overloaded with hooks at no loss of emotional resonance, with songs that rival and, yes, one-up (“Lungs,” anyone?) the singles that put them on the radar to begin with.
Now flash forward to Virgin Freefest in Baltimore, a week before The Bones Of What You Believe was released. The band had a better time slot and a bigger crowd. The front row was packed with fans singing along to every lyric. Some held homemade signs. There were very young fans there too, especially girls for whom Mayberry is a positive role model. I never saw any of the shows in the middle of the tour, but the band I saw in the beginning didn’t feel the same as the one at the end of the tour. Something happened over this summer, they were a more confident, harder hitting, and still unpretentious band. They were rock stars.
Tuesday night didn’t have that same catharsis, but that’s okay, victory laps don’t really need to. The intimate, elegant space captured the band in a relaxed mode and excited to go home. They joked, chatted with the audience between songs, and often reflected on the fact that where they are now doesn’t seem real. The audience was more reserved than those screaming, cheering kids outside Merriweather Post Pavilion, and that’s okay too. The small space encouraged a different kind of excitement, and with the laid back vibe (and better acoustics) the band’s emotionally and musically crushing songs were at their most propulsive and touching. At one point during the set, a drum pad seemed to have crashed, abruptly stopping the song. The group laughed it off, and Mayberry told some jokes, answered some questions, and talked about seeing the Eagles with her dad as they set up again. Later they said they were terrified when it happened but they didn’t let it show, which in a way is what they’ve been pulling off this entire exciting year. Eventually the problem was fixed and Mayberry asked the audience, “Okay we’re going to give you a choice. Do you want us to move on or do you want to hear that song again.” I happily shouted “Again.” We all did.
The concert was broadcast on SiriusXMU and if you’re a subscriber you can listen to it on demand.