(CHVRCHES performing at the Belly Up, June 2, 2013.)
Opening for CHVRCHES at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach was London-based dream pop band Still Corners. Oftentimes, a band I want to see will be inexplicably paired with an opener that will seem very far off from the kind of music I came for. But Still Corners intriguingly treads roughly the same territory as CHVRCHES. Since I still had my trial subscription to Google Play Music All Access, I used it to load up their work on my phone as I drove to the venue. Turns out they've been around for a few years now and have released significantly more material than CHVRCHES, including two full-length albums. Live, they were not bad at all, albeit there was an eventually exhausting samey-ness to their persistently ethereal songs. Vocalist Tessa Murray stepped out in a glittery jacket to some applause, while random film clips (Apocalypse Now, black and white dance footage, what looked like home movies) were projected onto the background throughout their set. They were quite humble, not chatty at all. Comically, one guy in the audience kept yelling "I love you!" after every time Murray spoke, which she never acknowledged.
As their set wound down, Murray mentioned that they would have to clear out very quickly, and, after their last song, they hastily left the stage. But then, a minute later, Murray came back out, sans shiny jacket, to slowly pack up her keyboard. I understand that they're probably not big enough to have roadies for this kind of gig, but it was still an awkward moment.
After the customary break for setting up, Scottish synthpop group CHVRCHES took the stage. The hot band of the moment, they've only released one EP, Recover - EP, plus two singles no longer available for purchase (but still on their YouTube channel). In addition to those songs, they played a number of other songs off their upcoming debut album, due for release in September. It was all quite good, I thought. For me, what makes CHVRCHES more appealing and accessible than many other electropop acts is that, beneath all the synth, Lauren Mayberry really sings, rather than just droning on, and there are melodies—the songs feel like they're going somewhere, rather than just going on until they run out of steam.
I do like it better when I can familiarize myself with the material before hearing it live. It usually takes me several listens to fully appreciate a song, and, furthermore, much of the thrill of attending a live performance is the anticipation as you follow along and wait for them to hit your favorite songs and moments. Of course, many of the songs from the upcoming album had already been capped at previous performances and uploaded to YouTube, so they were not entirely new to me. And it was very exciting when CHVRCHES performed familiar and catchy signature songs "Recover" and "The Mother We Share."
Like fellow UK act Still Corners, they seemed pretty rough as live performers. Mayberry's dorky headbanging and dancing—more like shaking in place—was nevertheless adorable, and at least she sang well and made a few jokes. At one point, she introduced a song as one that they had debuted on YouTube just the week prior. I was anticipating "Gun" here, but then Mayberry said, "It's called 'Theme Song to Game of Thrones.'" A joke, of course—it did end up being "Gun"—and Mayberry thanked "the eight people in the audience who got it." At that moment, I felt suddenly deeply ashamed that I was able to follow along with everything she had said, since I follow their Tumblr and subscribe to their YouTube channel.
Martin Doherty took over as vocalist for one song, and he and Mayberry literally just switched places on the stage. It was a bit awkward, because most male vocalists I've seen have either played instruments while singing, or else they've been very sharply dressed. Doherty had no instrument and was dressed more like a DJ, wearing a baseball cap and sweater—basically, just a regular dude—so he looked oddly exposed up there. He also had almost the exact same dorky dance moves as Mayberry, although he moved around the stage and sang directly to the audience more.
They brought the night to a close with a cover of Prince's "I Would Die 4 U" as the encore. This was actually one of the first songs they debuted online. Honestly, I didn't really dig it. I liked nearly all their originals, however, and I'm looking forward to their album in September.
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