Essays on Technology and Culture

Concert Review – CHVRCHES

I maintain an unhealthy skepticism of anything that gets “buzz.” It makes me suspicious when lots of people suddenly like something, and the more I heard about CHVRCHES the less willing I was to listen, until I heard “The Mother We Share” in a room. At that moment, the scales fell from my eyes, and I could see. I bought all their stuff from iTunes the very same day. Their music is beautiful, powerful, and emotional, and proof that you can make art and make dance music at the same time. In concert, this comes through even stronger, but before I talk about CHVRCHES, I have to discuss the landscape of seeing live music in New York City.

There’s a dearth of of decent, large music venues in New York City. There are tons of small clubs, but most two to four-thousand capacity venues are theaters, not rock clubs. Because of this, too many bands, CHVRCHES included, are forced to perform at Terminal 5, on the West Side of Manhattan. Terminal 5 is a terrible venue. Before the venue doors open, fans are forced to wait in line crossing the active service entrance of a car dealership—mitigated slightly in warmer months when the venue lets people in to wait at their roof deck bar. Terminal 5’s sound is also notorious—it’s a three floor box converted from a warehouse, so everything echoes and becomes mud. For CHVRCHES, it was worse than usual: the low end was cranked up, often drowning out the backing vocals and more delicate keyboard parts.

To make matters worse, the crowd was terrible, too: a mix of drunk yuppies and kids who looked like they post on 4chan’s music board. The opening band was an awful DJ act, The Range, who at least tried to make a DJ set as visually appealing as possible, but failed. More than few people in the crowd mentally checked out, and spent his set staring down at their phones, or drunkenly arguing with their friends, depending on which group they were in. One positive moment between sets came when the sound person played “Someone Great” by LCD Soundsystem, and about twenty or so people around me sang along.

Once CHVRCHES hit the stage at 9:20, I forgot all about the terrible venue and the terrible crowd—except for one brief moment. Starting with “We Sink,” they tore through almost every song on The Bones of What You Believe, skipping only “Broken Bones.” The intensity was fierce, underscored by a simple, yet gorgeous light show. Being an electronic group, CHVRCHES don’t move a great deal behind their keyboards, though when Iain and Marten switched to guitar or bass, they did move around a bit more. Marten also got a moment to shine in the spotlight, taking the lead both on “Under The Tide” and “You Caught the Light”, and dancing like a madman.

The only moment during the show where I was taken out of my rapture came early, as a wag in the crowd yelled about how attracted he was to Lauren. Aside from being an incredibly rude thing to yell to a performer, it’s more obnoxious coming after Lauren’s piece in The Guardian about the sexual harassment she has suffered from “fans” online. It seemed that Lauren didn’t hear it, thankfully, and the show continued apace…

…and before I realized it, it was over. CHVRCHES is the latest in a number of recent too-short shows. This will happen when you only have one album to promote, and you’re a headliner. When I saw Icona Pop, their show was over in about an hour. Savages, who also played Terminal 5 (with less sound trouble) played longer, though by adding in a cover song, a new song, and some extended live versions—not that I was complaining. Nor was I complaining about CHVRCHES, who, even when playing the weaker songs of their album, put on an impressive show, and clearly enjoying themselves. How many bands would take time between encore songs to recite the opening monologue from Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Only one, by my reckoning.

When the house lights rose, I felt wonderful. The terrible DJ, the awful people in the crowd, the overpriced beer, it all went away… Until I realized that I had to join 3000 people being crushed through two narrow hallways, and past the merch table. Terminal 5’s awfulness reasserted itself in the end. I’ve yet to reach the point where a terrible venue will overcome my desire to see an artist, and CHVRCHES are worth the hassle.