Photographs by Sarah Rix.
For an all-ages show featuring a dance synth pop band I was quite shocked to see the crowd mostly of people in their late 20’s filled at The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto. What was even more surprising is older crowds tend to show up a bit later, filing in as the opening act is finishing up, instead I was greeted to a nearly full house for the first of two sold out shows for the Scottish band CHVRCHES.
After being blown away by such an early turnout I got to watch the crowd get super into opening act Mansionair. After interviewing the lads from Sydney, Australia earlier in the day and hearing how they are learning a lot being on tour with a band exploding with popularity like CHVRCHES, it wasn’t surprising that they have great command of the stage already. The band played a short but killer set including their just released song Pick Me Up that had the crowd dancing along, a feat always impressive regardless of talent by opening acts. The crowd cheered along after each clap with lead singer Jack Froggatt happily exclaiming “you guys are just like Australians, that’s a fantastic thing! It feels like home!” The band ended with their soon to be massive indie hit Hold Me Down as all three members seemed locked in a tight groove and throwing their bodies into the music. Being on tour with a band like CHVRCHES will get them noticed and playing large venues will prep them for the next time they come around and will be headlining their own shows.
The energy was palpable, luckily the band’s gear was already set up and in place so a long awkward sound check wasn’t needed. When the trio did come out with Martin Doherty and Iain Cook flanking the wings leaving a large gap for front woman Lauren Mayberry to do her thing, the crowd went nuts. The show started off with the first song off their new album Every Open Eye, Never Ending Circles. The band was clad in all black including a sequined crop top on Mayberry. Throughout the night Mayberry used her extra long microphone cord as a prop, spinning it around and using it as a whip, at one point almost tripping over it as she jumped off Doherty’s riser.
During the outro of We Sink, Doherty pointed his mic towards the crowd as they filled in the shouts of “Say, say, say”. When the band finally addressed the crowd after the first few songs, Mayberry said a gentle hello as the crowd erupted in cheers. She joked about how she wishes every greeting she gave got the same response. The night was filled with the bands acerbic humour and quick wits while musing about touring life and growing in popularity. With only two albums out, both massive hits, the fans that packed the venue were well aware of every song in their catalogue so every opening bar roars of approval were sounded off. Behind the band were large paneled screens that displayed glitch graphics interspersed with bright strobe lights of varying colours. The band’s performance and stage set up is clearly stadium ready, and if selling out two shows at a moderately sized venue is any indication, they are pretty close to being able to play large scale shows already.
On the band’s albums their synths are a bit more reserved, seemingly more mid-tempo most of the time allowing the focus to be on the band’s usually moody lyrics. The band live is a totally different story, their music is punchy and in your face to the extreme. They sound like Nine Inch Nails aggressive industrial synth rock clashing with Robyn’s impossibly dancey throwback jams. The band thanked the “repeat offenders”, otherwise known as fans who had previously attended their shows. A guy awkwardly shouted that he enjoyed their Brooklyn show and Mayberry stopped her banter to thank him, but let him know that his comment probably alienated the rest of the crowd since they weren’t present for that particular show.
For Empty Threat, an electronic drum set was brought on stage for Mayberry to play adding a third layer of beats to Cook’s and Doherty’s. Mayberry who for better or worse doesn’t put up with rudeness or unwanted attention had to deal with things like a guy shouting that he was in love with her, to which she replied that she loves glow sticks, in reference to one that was wrapped around her forearm. When the band got to the super sped up Tether a mosh pit nearly broke out in the front sections as I could see the first handful of rows jumping up and down with their hands in the air. While I expected there to be guys at the show, I was a little shocked to see not only was the crowd mostly male dominated, but they seemed to be the ones going the hardest, singing along and yelling I love this song to their buddies.
Doherty reminded the crowd that we are the reason why they have two sold out shows, not the band, as the fans are responsible for the act of actually buying the tickets and supporting them as he launched into Under the Tide, one of the few songs he sings lead on. Taking his queues from Mayberry he commanded the stage so well it is shocking he isn’t a front man of a band himself. He twitched and flailed about putting his whole body into the performance. Mayberry shifted over to his command station as she played synth’s and her e-drum.
As the set was winding down Mayberry introduced Leave a Trace as the last song of the night. Mayberry commented on how she loves it when people boo that the show is ending even though it is done in a respectful way. The screens behind the band were still glitchy, but featured the large pixels of pink flowers featured on their newest album’s covert art.
As the band reemerged to chants and claps at a deafening level they played two more songs, Afterglow being the slowest song of the night changing the mood a bit. Once again they announced they were playing the last song of the night, this time the audience knew expressly that it was the group’s biggest hit The Mother We Share that made them into the mainstream band they are now.
Every Open Eye has only just come out, but it immediately shot up my list as one of the best releases of the year as the band expanded on what they were already great at while exploring new directions as well. The band will most likely have prominent slots on next year’s festival circuit as they bring the fans, the energy and the pedigree to command a top spot.
Thanks to Embrace Presents for media access.