Live Review: Chvrches at Paramount Theatre 10/14/15

Live Reviews
10/19/2015
Jacob Webb
photos by Matthew B. Thompson (view set)

A massive lighting rig. Pulsating four-on-the-floor beats. A constant, insistent bass presence in every song. Choruses that, in the moment, seem like they can actually propel the audience to the heights the singer is claming she'll go to. This is not Chvrches, the Glasgow basement project that emerged in a tidal wave of hype in 2013. Hell, this isn't even the band that toured for nearly two full years about behind their hype-meeting debut, 2013's The Bones of What You Believe. The goals the band laid out in their early songs (triumph over anxiety, the establishment of independence) were all personal, but the way the acheivements of those ideals have manifested themselves – a sold-out tour of large theatres and a dazzling sophomore effort in this year's Every Open Eye – are the last thing the Scottish trio expected. But to say they've risen to the challenge of being a large venue-filling, commercially and critically successful band is an understatement. Chvrches have taken their newfound Big Band status by the throat and tamed it, transforming into a light-bathed, anthem-blasting tour de force live band in the process.

It's arguable whether or not Every Open Eye is a better album than Bones, but it's categorically a bigger one. The production is more expansive, the choruses stickier, singer Lauren Mayberry's vocals more powerful and versatile, and, perhaps, most importantly, the rhythms more dance-friendly. Every Open Eye's frequent use of four-on-the-floor drum programming adds an urgency that Bones only briefly tapped into (on "Science/Visions" and "Tether", both of which made an appearance at the Paramount), and that programmed kickdrum drive is now the engine of their live set, with Mayberry's fist, keyboardist Martin Doherty's shoulders, and keyboardist/guitarist Iain Cook's head often bopping in time with it. Opening with a breathless, barely separated "Never Ending Circles", "We Sink", and "Keep You On My Side", the trio have doubled down on their immediate, more pop-leaning tunes to carry the set. (Which, to be fair, is most of them.) It's a winning decision. Nearly every song in the set included at least one chorus or bridge – Every Open Eye's bridges are maybe more magnetic than its choruses, and that's saying something – where Mayberry led the crowd in a hands-in-the-air group catharsis moment. And a major reason that those moments succeeded is that Mayberry has taken a massive step forward as a frontwoman. She's exponentially more mobile on stage than she was on the Bones tour, running from side to side when not dancing in between her vocal parts or fist-pumping (she did a lot of fist pumping.) It's not like someday-Chvrches' Greatest Hits anchors "The Mother We Share", "Recover", "Leave a Trace", or "Gun" were lacking in energy, but Mayberry gave them an extra push anyway, and it certainly worked. (Doherty, who only fronted the band for "Under the Tide", continues to play like a soccer super-sub: bursting out with energy and immediately making an impression before switching back to a striker-supportive role.)

If this performance sounds like something that will play even better at Coachella than it did at the Paramount, that's because it is. (Indubitably, Chvrches will be at every major festival in the world on this tour and they will conquer every last one of them.) Grantland's Andy Greenwald recently told Mayberry he describes their music as "emo with synths", to which she agreed. They've been dressed up with brooding post-rock atomspheres and jagged, post-Silent Shout arrangements, but Chvrches' songs have always been big emotional statements backed up by unabashed pop melodies, and Every Open Eye moves them even farther into that world. And their current tour captures the harder/faster/better/strong mentality Every Open Eye was built on: by tightening the few loose screws in their machine, Chvrches have fully graduated to the cathedral-sized stature their music has always aimed for. "You know, Seattle is pretty special to us. If only because I'm a huge Death Cab For Cutie fan," Mayberry noted during one of her many asides (during which, thankfully, no one said anything dumb). "I did an open mic once in university and did an absolutely terrible cover of 'Title and Registration' and I didn't win." Then she looked at Doherty and Cook and grinned. "I wonder what that guy is up to now."

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