CHVRCHES: The Pop Underdog Worth Betting On

CHVRCHES' two night stint at the Danforth Music hall was a shimmering success

With the deep pulses and collision of beats buried in the background beneath her, Lauren Mayberry comes forward out of CHVRCHES’ glowing backdrops. In that moment she stretches and stretches, towering upwards, as if her heart pumping in time to “Keep You On My Side” is somehow forcing her to become something else, something bigger. And it is. It’s only the first song of the night, and stage and sound have transformed her from the diminutive Scot one sees in YouTube interviews to a bouncy, twisting storm, no less than eight feet tall, hard black boots setting her steady into place as the music implodes and in a blink, silence, darkness.

Flanked by Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, Mayberry is a special kind of ‘pop’ star, and CHVRCHES is a special kind of ‘pop’ group. Their songs could go 12 rounds with any of their more sugary Top 40 counterparts and come out on top, not only because of what some might call edge—they have it, same as razors—but also thanks to the Scottish band’s ability to craft electric blue hooks. But aural glitz is only a small part of their magic.


(Photo by Nick Tiringer)

Case in point, next tune “We Sink”: a heartbreaker of a hit sprinkled with the kind of emotion that wrenches an ache in yer bones, wedges the knife between yer ribs and looks you in the eye as it twists it and you bleed out together (and remember, this is only song two!). Gone are the modern pop cliches and in is the honesty, the bareness, the bones that build what someone might refer to as ‘stomach music’—the kind of sounds and feelings that waste no time worming into your heart or mind, but forces itself into your stomach. It elicits a physical reaction.

You can see this in Mayberry herself, as an avatar of the whole phenomenon. She sparkles—literally, her top sparkles—but that is about where her common step with other pop stars ends. Tonight, at least, she gives off a utilitarian air: set up for nothing but kinetics, and working like a machine. Where most pop stars find a way, somehow, to make what they do look easy (it’s not), Mayberry is the complete opposite. When she works, you can see her work. The forceful physical performance, backed by unscripted stage banter and a tendency to (rightfully) put sexist neanderthals in their place, is more punk rock than anything else. More punk rock, in fact, than a lot of bands masquerading as punk rock these days. Mayberry refuses to mince words, opting to flip off bros instead of suffer their shit or ‘take it easy,’ and that is—unfortunately, in 2015—significantly political and deeply valuable. She is our dark horse pop superstar, and far from perfect: her voice isn’t always 100% on, it shakes, it waivers, it’s real, she’s moving, shaking, stomping, twisting, fighting for every note, gasping for breath, catching it, and you can hear that, and it makes the whole thing that much better, because you know there’s no curtain to pull back and find something else producing that beautiful noise.


(Photo by Nick Tiringer)

And this all might—still! Somehow!—be unremarkable, save for the fact that almost every CHVRCHES song is stadium-sized: the heaving dystopia of “Science/Visions”, the sparkle and smack of “Gun”, the triumphant push of “Leave a Trace”, all of which are featured tonight in brilliant light-up, technicolour sound. The last of those songs leaves a stage swathed in blues, and CHVRCHES exits to ear-splitting applause and screams, the likes of which don’t ebb one bit, not until the ocean swell of the gorgeous “Afterglow”, which brings out a few actual lighters (which never happens at the Danforth). It all ends with the song that alerted many to the band’s excellence in the first place: “The Mother We Share”, played at what sounds like a volume at least 25 percent louder than the rest of the set.


(Photo by Nick Tiringer)

It might hardly be breaking new ground, or even necessary at this point to say it, but CHVRCHES is a pop underdog worth betting on, and Lauren Mayberry might be not only the hero we deserve, but absolutely one we desperately need. And as she steps backstage and shrinks back to regular human size, it’s not difficult to imagine that the next time we see her, she’ll be even taller, standing on a high stage somewhere more the size of the Air Canada Centre.