In professional wrestling, pundits use the term "face turn" to refer to when a performer "gets over" with the crowd and becomes a universally accepted hero.
Though CHVRCHES' 2013 debut The Bones of What You Believe landed them on many year-end lists around the blogosphere, their sophomore album, last month's Every Open Eye, and its infectious lead single, "Leave a Trace," have set the Glasgow electro-indie trio on the path to becoming main-event talent. Whether or not they deserve the investment is a question they set out to answer ahead of their headlining gig at Myth on Saturday night.
The lights onstage at Myth can make any fledgling DJ set look like a Daft Punk show, but something magnetic happened when lead singer Lauren Mayberry walked out through the mist and raised the mic like it was a championship strap. The pop was huge, as the strip-mall nightclub erupted into whoops and hollers while stablemates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty took their rightful places at the stations to her right and left and the opening gong of "Never Ending Circles" sounded.
If there's one persistent knock on CHVRCHES, it's that they're too squeaky clean. It's a symptom shared by WWE flagbearer John Cena, who's more of a merchandise mannequin than an actual character. As with any face turn, a band stands to lose as many fans as it gains by going big, and, on their newest record, CHVRCHES have eschewed some of their edge in their reach for mass appeal.
Every Open Eye is drowned in polish, and much of its contents ("Empty Threat", "Make Them Gold") are perfect for the night club setting. But one of the unmistakable traits of a superstar is that they win you over in spite of your predilections. Saturday in Maplewood was far from CHVRCHES' Wrestlemania moment, but the band's comfort and charisma in the growing spotlight certainly justified their push to the top of the card.
Performing with an exacting, Bret Hart-like excellence of execution, Mayberry, Cook, and Doherty worked in precise movements, gloating in the cheap pop of a high note being belted from atop the PA monitor and take breaks between album-quality jams to work the crowd. Before going into "Lies," Mayberry took to the mic to cut a promo on the disadvantages of being "a tiny human" at a concert before breaking kayfabe and asking the audience to please not tell Upworthy that she hates tall people.
Mayberry again showcased her mic skills before "Gun," chiding crowd members for not inviting Prince to the show. At every break, she was magnetic, and even giving the mic over to Doherty for "Under the Tide" couldn't bury her momentum. Doherty's jagged, angular dance moves and the Titantron-like lights behind him only helped solidify that CHVRCHES are a rightful spectacle. Their next move, "Recover," represented the zenith of their pre-encore set. The The Bones of What You Believe standout made the crowd — who were deader than the night called for — rollick and roar, the coronation nearly complete
For their finisher, CHVRCHES returned for a two-song encore. Mayberry opened by cutting a moody soliloquy of "Afterglow" before transitioning into their signature move, The Bones of What You Believe's statement track, "Mother We Share." Predictable but perfect, they pulsed and wailed until the bell rang, leaving the crowd on their feet roaring for their heroes.
Random notebook dump: My free trial for WWE Network runs out on Wednesday, so I'll go back to normal show reviews soon, I promise.
Critic's bias: Though I hate their name, I do like CHVRCHES. I was a really big fan of The Bones of What You Believe, but Every Open Eye isn't as charming. Things get real fist-pumpy on that record — like CHVRCHES' agent realized their ODESZA EDM/electro-pop crossover potential and told them to make the next album "more lit."
They've gone from one of the lower-card festival finds to the type of band you see with the dude on your lacrosse team who sells Molly. The lyric writing, especially, took a dive (the chorus of "Empty Threat" hinges on the YOLO-tastic phrase "take it back with no regrets," for example). That being said, you'd have to be a real, crocodilian hipster to not enjoy Every Open Eye. It's the type of album that installs an instant recall after just one listen. It may not be the album that the Pitchfork crowd hoped for, but it's still a good album.
The crowd: Generally, a lot of good haircuts.
(Not) overheard in the crowd: Our own Mike Mullen was the only person in Minnesota to propose to Mayberry this week, which was a good thing.
The venue: I'm not even sure if this is a viable Critic's Notebook section, but fuck it, I have to comment on Myth. This place offers the antithesis of a good music-viewing experience. Saturday was actually my first time at the suburban venue, and I wanted to believe that all the negativity surrounding it was just locals being salty about taking a long drive, but holy hell, there's basically no good way to see the show.
I watched CHVRCHES play mainly on a TV from the balcony, and the few times I was actually able to glimpse Mayberry and her cohorts, it was through a maze of sweaty bro necks because everyone was looking down to see the stage. It was a mess, and the fans deserve better.
Never Ending Circles
Keep You on My Side
Make Them Gold
Under the Tide
Leave a Trace
The Mother We Share