REVIEW gig Old Subbacultcha Old Subbacultcha

Chvrches and SOAK delight the eclectic audience in attendance

I'll be honest here, as a music journalist I should probably make more of an effort to keep my fingers on the pulse concerning what 'the kids are listening to', but these days I struggle to listen to more than 10 minutes of Radio 1 without feeling like I'm being pummelled into submission by a robotic hooker


Monday the 10th of March 2014 – The Institute – Birmingham

Every once in a while though, something of genuine substance manages to break through, sneak in under the radar and infiltrate the masses, unbeknownst to me it would appear darkly tinged electro-pop Scots Chvrches are just one of these anomalies. The Birmingham Institute was packed to the rafters last night with a crowd that veered wildly between the kind of 'lads' and 'ladettes' you'd expect to find at a Calvin Harris gig and the stick-thin indie 'hipsters' you'd generally expect to be present at 'this sort of thing'. It made for a strange atmosphere indeed, but one that didn't detract one iota from the music, which was not only powerful and infectious, but backed by an incredible light-show. Now I'm not usually one to be swayed by pretty lights, but there was a genuine subtle artistry to the Chvrches live-show that was miles away from the lasers and pyrotechnics of a stadium show. It was quite heavy on the strobe mind. The strobes and pretty fairy lights (arranged to form the symbol from the cover of the bands incredible 'The Bones of What you Believe' debut) were kept in the wings for support act SOAK though, the diminutive young singer who also happens to be the first signing to Chvrches very own 'Goodbye Records' label. At just 17 years old, the Derry born SOAK (known to her mother as Bridie Monds-Watson) still has a lot of growing to do as an artist, but there is boundless potential there. Unfortunately considering the size and general (regrettable) indifference of the crowd, her tender acoustic ballads fell on largely deaf ears. There was polite applause but honestly she deserved more. Obviously such quiet, reflective music by its very nature doesn't suit a venue as vast and ornate as the main room at the Institute, but the right atmosphere could have circumvented these issues. SOAK would have sounded wonderful at a smaller venue, perhaps supporting a band with a more patient fan base (myself and my gig companion both agreed she'd have gone down a treat at a 'Low' gig), but without a band to back her up most of our fellow audience members chose to spend the duration of her set propping up the bar. Their loss mind as the opening 'Explosions' and recent single 'Blud' kicked off a string of subtle, surprisingly mature compositions with nary a weak link amongst them. If she's to play these venues in future though she'll need a band, otherwise she might be better off sticking to the club circuit until she's found her 'live sound'. Chvrches themselves meanwhile have no such issues. Though their set was a little short (at just over an hour) it was perfectly paced, sounded incredibly powerful and packed in the entirety of their album as well as bonus track 'Strong Hand'. Kicking out of the gates with the commanding dual-shot to the system of 'We Sink' and 'Lies', the visual and sonic impact was glorious and (I'll be honest here) far more effective than I was expecting. Whilst it has been said in the past that singer Lauren Mayberry tends to get lost in the mix live, I actually like the effect. The way her vocals sit 'in' the mix rather than 'above' it give the songs more of a hazy, shoe-gaze edge that really helped fill the room. The only song that fell a little flat for me was 'Under the Tide', which saw Martin Doherty take over mic duties over a rigid 4/4 beat and glistening arpeggiated trills. It lacks the inherit darkness of the groups other songs and felt like it was trying too hard to bring a nightclub vibe to the show that was frankly a little unnecessary. Otherwise it was practically flawless, though the biggest audience reactions were obviously saved for singles 'Recover', 'Lies', 'Gun' and 'The Mother We Share'. The real revelation of the evening though, came in the form of album closer 'You Caught the Light', which they quite aptly unveiled as an encore number. Where most of the trio's songs tend to only flirt with a more cinematic flair, this delirious number skipped straight to third base in a manner that might just make M83 blush. The album version was a relatively understated affair, but live the song is an absolute barnstormer that in many ways harks back to Iain Cook's old band Aerogramme and really should have been saved for the end of the set. That being said though, considering the crowd was largely made up of what could diplomatically (I'm holding my tongue here) be described as 'Radio 1 listeners' who were far more interested in the 'dancey numbers', it's probably wise on the band's part that they gave those honours to the more straight-forward 'By The Throat'. So what is the key to Chvrches success? Well the charming Lauren Mayberry doesn't hurt (even her between song patter was delightful, and it's quite possible a large percentage of the audience fell a little bit in love with her last night) but honestly I think it's just the quality of the songs. Very rarely does a debut album come along as strong as theirs, and the songs pack even more of a punch live. Ultimately whether or not this popularity can sustain itself depends on album number 2, but for now the band should feel proud that they've accomplished something so few acts manage 'these days' (at 28 I feel JUST about qualified enough to use that phrase without wincing); gaining a vast, eclectic and adoring fan base without compromising themselves musically. Even
with that perplexing name.
Setlist We Sink Lies Lungs Gun Night Sky Strong Hand Science/Visions Recover Tether Under the Tide
Encore You Caught the Light By the Throat
Official Chvrches Website
Official Soak Website