Chvrches review – sparkling synth-poppers on the brink of the big time

Alexandra Palace, London
They only have one top 40 single to their name but Chvrches’ muscular sound shows their heady ambitions are well justified

Chvrches are still some way from being a household name. Singer Lauren Mayberry and multi-instrumentalists Martin Doherty and Iain Cooke are at the halfway stage – able to launch a UK tour by filling one of London’s most cavernous venues, but unrecognisable to non-fans because of their lack of a definitive hit. Tonight’s opener, Get Out, is the nearest thing they’ve got, and in this high-ceilinged room it feels much bigger than its recorded self. Co-written by Adele’s producer, Greg Kurstin, it is synth pop with emo bells on, built for the communal shoutalong that duly ensues. Yet despite extensive radio play ahead of last year’s third album, Love Is Dead, it stalled – out of step, perhaps, with a singles chart that has turned away from electro.

That must have galled the Glasgow trio, whose ambitions extend beyond packing them in on a winter Thursday in north London. Even when they were just shortlisters on the Sound of 2013 poll, they had goals, and today their show is musically muscular and full of things to see. Years of touring have ensured that however large the stage, they inhabit it fully. (By contrast, tonight’s support, teen synth-duo Let’s Eat Grandma, were nearly swallowed by the space, but did have pounding goth choruses on their side.)

Mayberry, dressed for the heat in a transparent dress-over-playsuit, is an update on the classic Scottish indie vocalist. Between songs, she is full of wry banter about Netflix’s Ted Bundy documentary; during songs, she whirls across the stage in untrammelled war cry. The acoustics force her to compete with the bassy synth-lines – during Graves, which addresses lack of accountability of people in power, it’s impossible to unpick the words. But she is arresting.

Flanking her, Cook and Doherty refuse to be contained behind their keyboards. An exceptionally animated synth-prodder and guitar-thwacker, Doherty steps up to sing God’s Plan (not the Drake song) and Under the Tide, and is rewarded with a joyous audience. Deservedly so – this is a band who will only need one hit to become as big as they obviously yearn to be.

  • At O2 Academy, Birmingham, 8 and 9 February. Then touring.


Caroline Sullivan

The GuardianTramp

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