Lauren Mayberry fronts CHVRCHES at The Anthem in DC on Nov. 30, 2021. (Photos by Katherine Gaines (ambienteye.com); Words by Mickey McCarter)
“My social skills are gone,” quipped Lauren Mayberry. “I stayed inside for two years, staring at a wall. Now, I’m talking to you guys, and this is normal.”
Well, those guys were ecstatic that the CHVRCHES frontwoman was indeed talking to them, singing to them, and emoting like never before at a show bursting with energy at The Anthem DC recently. Maybe, however, it takes two years of lockdown experiences might result in a brilliant, memorable show like those on this tour, which has sent CHVRCHES around the world in support of their very good fourth album, Screen Violence.
On Nov. 30, much of the show was dedicated to Screen Violence and its themes of human beings unable to connect to each other due to sustained antipathy or flashes of misogyny. Whatever has you feeling down in the world, particularly in terms of social media rampages overwhelming many other forms of communication, then the new CHVRCHES album was in your corner upon its release last August via Glassnote Records. Lauren addressed the crowd prior to “How Not to Drown,” an aptly named song that could be about keeping one’s head up through the angry conversations that dominate so much civil discourse.
“This song is sad and stuff,” Lauren said before kicking it off at The Anthem. On the album, it appears as a duet with Robert Smith, the legendary frontman of The Cure, which is a brilliant pairing for the synthpop trio. Similar to The Cure at the height of their chart popularity, CHVRCHES now finds themselves in a position of discussing dark and moody subject matter over otherwise bright melodies.
Stream Screen Violence by CHVRCHES on Spotify:
As pleasant as they are to hear, CHVRCHES also delivered an arresting visual show. Lauren appeared pixie-like, clad in various shimmering or leathery outfits, but her highly pitched soprano filled the cavernous spaces of The Anthem with ease. You can easily lose yourself watching her toss her head from side to side, only to renew her focus on her microphone with a carefully delivered turn of phrase.
To my personal satisfaction, CHVRCHES selected a few of their very best songs from Every Open Eye, their very best album in my opinion, and sprinkled them throughout the show, as they did with several tracks from debut record The Bones of What You Believe and third album Love Is Dead. And so a high point of the show came at the very middle when Lauren sang “Good Girls” from Screen Violence and followed it with the irrepressible “Bury It” from Every Open Eye. The bite of “Good Girls” harbored a sadness less over than The Cure’s “Boys Don’t Cry,” from which it surely owes a debt of inspiration.
CHVRCHES washed down the genteel vitriol of “Good Girls” with the earnest call to turn the other cheek in “Bury It.” Of course, Lauren is joined in the creation of the soaring synthpop earworm by her fellow Scots and bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty. Iain’s presence was a welcome surprise, as he had dropped off the tour for a few dates due to a positive coronavirus test. But he was back in the saddle last week, wielding his bass with studied precision to churn out pleasing new wave rhythms. On stage left, Martin remained terrifically buoyant on synthesizers, his fingers flying over keys, knobs, and sequencers in a flash.
Watch CHVRCHES perform “Good Girls” live for SiriusXM on YouTube:
The encore at The Anthem was everything you could ask for as a CHVRCHES fan — Screen Violence’s “Asking for a Friend,” breakout first single “The Mother We Share,” and one of Open Every Eye’s best, “Clearest Blue.” Lauren’s return to the stage presented one of the most unforgettable costume changes of the tour as she arrived splattered in fake blood, her arms outstretched in an open plea. Aided by a very honest and unpretentious beauty, Lauren has developed an increasing appetite for such visual imagery in performance, and Screen Violence has clearly provided lots of grist for that particular mill.
I cannot wrap this review without a shout-out also to CHVRCHES drummer Jonny Scott, an enigmatic workhouse whose percussive mastery complements the trebly highlights of CHVRCHES’ catchiest tunes while also filling out the sound of their sweeping balladry at other times. I shan’t be surprised if Robert Smith ever poaches him for a massive tour by The Cure at some point in the future.
This was one of the very best shows of the year; make room for CHVRCHES on your calendar if they are performing somewhere near you!
Here are some pictures of CHVRCHES performing at The Anthem in DC on Nov. 30, 2021. All photos copyright and courtesy of Katherine Gaines (ambienteye.com).