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The congregations keep getting bigger for Chvrches. Their show at the 10,000-capacity Alexandra Palace was the Glaswegian trio’s biggest headlining gig to date. “I will show restraint,” Lauren Mayberry sang in one of the tracks from their new album, Every Open Eye. But the cavernous setting demanded that she and her bandmates, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, throw restraint to the wind.
They set out their stall with “Never Ending Circles”, Every Open Eye’s first song. A huge synthesiser riff rang out, criss-crossed by echoing drumbeats. Mayberry’s voice, bolstered by reverb, held its own amid the widescreen action: she has a plucky vocal style, not virtuosic but determined to make herself heard. Cook and Doherty flanked her, standing at sets of synthesisers, dancing in the flailing way that keyboardists have, like someone trying to push an object up a slippery hill.
It has been a rapid rise for the threesome. Their debut, The Bones of What You Believe, came out two years ago. Its songs were made more muscular tonight: the bleeping disco beat running through “We Sink” sounded as if it had been bulked up by a course of electropop steroids. Meanwhile, new songs were full of dramatic flourishes, such as the whipcrack passage of drumming that Mayberry contributed to “Playing Dead”.
The main reference point was 1980s synth-pop. That era was a time of reinvention, such as the cocktail waitress who is turned into “someone new” in The Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”. But Chvrches bring a different tone, an earnestness. “You can only be the truest version of yourself,” Mayberry said in one of her frequent between-song chats. When she ended “Playing Dead” on her knees, slamming the floor with a hand, the arena-pop choreography looked game but forced.
They gave the impression of a band trying to shed a natural reserve. Lyrics made a virtue of reasonableness (“Meet me halfway”, “Take no chances”), while the music pushed outwards, all expansive gestures and glitter. The contrast made the moments when they succeeded in casting restraint aside, especially the pure-pop energy rush of “Clearest Blue” at the show’s climax, all the more entertaining.
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