Chvrches – Albert Hall, Manchester, 20/11/2015, and 02 Academy, Bristol, 17/11/2015

Quite appropriate to find Chvrches and their fans taking shelter from a sleet-filled sky in the Grade II listed Albert Hall, a former chapel, renovated to host the world’s best bands, after 40 years in the dark.

Sometimes the elements come together and you just know you’re in for a special experience and that’s how I felt when I dashed up the broad, solid steps and in to the hall.

Aussie support act, Mansionair, warmed rain-damp anticipating pilgrims with crisp vocals while charming all with angelic faces.

It was the second time I’d seen them in a week, the second occasion I’d listened to them and they were growing on me.

Around 30 minutes before lift off, the crowd started to bulge, although polite patrons respected one and other’s personal space.

Excitement built from the ornate ceiling to the balcony, down to the spacious standing area.

Until the Albert Hall gig – and I saw the band in Bristol three days prior – I was struggling to love Chvrches’ latest and second album Every Open Eye (EOE) as much as their first, The Bones of What You Believe (Bones). It was like when you start dating a new girl/guy when the last person you loved was possibly the love of your life.

In the lead-up to the Bristol and Manchester gigs though, I spent some quality time with EOE, at work, in bed and everywhere in between.

And as the Albert Hall show approached, EOE and me, were getting more and more familiar and I was discovering it has so many qualities of its own.

In Bristol I could only watch from a distance so my shorter friend could get a decent view. The distance was distracting and although I reveled in being in the same building as my favourite band, being front row is the only place to really appreciate a performance.

The live performances added nuances to the record-listening experience. Empty Threat sounds positive and pure on the record but live, lead singer Lauren’s energy and passion add a dramatic dimension.

As the threesome lit up the stage, Bury It came in to its own and not for the first time, Martin’s backing vocals added a different shade.

I never thought a 5’2″, super slim person could tower over me and make me feel awestruck and a little intimated, however, when Lauren stood on some sort of two-foot-tall black box on stage in front of me, she showed everyone who was boss and looked like a modern day Joan of Arc ready to lead the fight for a just cause.

Lauren had talked about working on her stage presence. Not long ago she said she was still working out what to do with her limbs when in front of an audience. But if any doubts remained in her head they didn’t show. She filled the stage with her movement, mic twirling and limitless voice.

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The more songs I heard the more convinced I became that Chvrches have made it gold again with their second album.

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No Chvrches record or live show would be complete without Martin Doherty dancing. I don’t know when or how it started, but the way he builds up from small movements to a total release of meteoric energy that seemingly can’t be contained, is breathtaking. It was the best dancing performance I’ve seen since Billy Elliot paraded down County Durham back streets to The Jam’s Town Called Malice.

Many onwatchers know what’s coming but it’s still spellbinding. I don’t know if Martin has ever had dancing lessons – his moves seem to be totally free and improvised – but they perfectly fit their partnering song, Under The Tide.

Martin’s moves have become something of a cult phenomenon and there’s even a Twitter page dedicated to them, Martin Doherty’s Academy of Dance.

Iain Cook also swept in to the dancing tide, rocking behind his guitar, although you’d be brave to bet on him ever reproducing the sort of danctics Martin gets up to.

The Guardian‘s recent reviews of Chvrches gigs call the band’s performances ‘bittersweet’. I can only imagine The Guardian‘s reviewers must be bitter for some reason and I don’t think the word ‘sweet’ could ever do Chvrches justice.

If you know anything about this band you know to underestimate them at your peril.

Maybe some people want every artist to go high and low and in and out of happiness, like Amy Winehouse seemed to, like Etta James, Nina Simone, Edith Piaf, Marvin Gaye… and the fact Chvrches are building their success with level heads upsets them.

I don’t want Chvrches to suffer for their art and I doubt they need to be sectioned or taken to rehab to be able to produce fantastic records and stunning live performances.

Chvrches’ first album, Bones, made me love listening to records again and now, seeing them live has reminded me how amazing an experience a gig can be and I can’t wait until the next one…


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