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Chvrches banish the back-to-work blues for one night at Sydney Opera House

Chvrches band on stage at Sydney Opera House
Photograph: Daniel Boud

No one particularly enjoys the first Monday after the Christmas break. Many people have had a full two weeks off, meaning it’s a day for attempting to remember your password, trudging through emails, and at least one more coffee than usual just to try and recall what it is exactly that you do for a living. In short, not an easy task for a band to rouse a crowd who could be forgiven for wanting to spend the dreary evening curled up in front of Netflix. But it was the challenge for Google-savvy Glaswegian synth poppers Chvrches, at the Opera House for the last leg of their Australian tour promoting their third record, Love is Dead.

Initially, it seems like a task that Chvrches might not be well equipped for. Lead singer Lauren Mayberry strode the stage, pausing during instrumental breaks to twirl in her black tutu, but the rest of the band remained almost motionless, as if using the banks of keyboards and drums as a wall between them and the audience. The first acknowledgement of the audience was an emotionless greeting of, “Hello, we’re a band called Chvrches,” and that Netflix marathon started to sound ever more appealing.

But after the first quarter of an hour, they really started to hit their stride. Lauren’s vocals became more confident and powerful, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty stopped hiding behind their consoles, and it soon became clear that the group were having a whale of a time. Social media posts from earlier in the day had revealed Chvrches “never in [their] lives” thought they’d have the privilege of playing the Opera House, so perhaps it was understandable they were somewhat tentative to begin with. However, by this point they were truly lost in performance – fist pumps, head banging and, yes, lots more twirling.

Photograph: Daniel Boud

They also managed to showcase their skills at audience interaction and demonstrate just how funny they are. Again, it might not have been clear from the first 15 minutes but once they hit their stride, we were treated to between-songs riffs on the effectiveness of Superman’s disguise, a no-spoilers look at A Star is Born (featuring a brief impromptu rendition of ‘Shallow’) and the link between glow sticks and techno. In fact, at one point, Lauren suggested they were honing their comedic chops due to the gap in the market recently vacated by a number of stand-ups accused of certain transgressions. “Maybe Louis CK will be better in 2019?” she offered, almost hopefully, before grimacing.

Given the band’s reliance on keyboards and Lauren’s relatively high-pitched vocals, you’d be forgiven for thinking Chvrches might lack punch on stage. But they ensured the low end wasn’t neglected, to the point where some tracks – ‘We Sink’ in particular – were given a more gothic, industrial feel. When Cook and Doherty stepped away from the keyboards and picked up their bass and guitar respectively, they became more like a heavy rock band. Indeed, some of Doherty’s more energetic work with the effects pedal owed more to the swirling cyclones of noise created by My Bloody Valentine than their more oft-cited influences like Depeche Mode. 

Chvrches on stage at Sydney Opera House January 7, 2019

Photograph: Daniel Boud

As Chvrches’ confidence grew, the audience mirrored back that enthusiasm. ‘Graffiti,’ the opening track from Love is Dead, was the cue for everyone to stand and, for a decent proportion of the crowd, remain on their feet for the rest of the performance. ‘God’s Plan’ (not the Drake track), also from Love is Dead, gave the opportunity for Doherty and Mayberry to temporarily swap positions and, while not a natural frontman, his energy brought everyone along, as he exhorted the crowd to dance and punch the air while he jumped around the stage, limbs flailing entirely independently of one another.

Before we knew it, the set was over and the band disappeared, soon returning for the customary encore. Despite those final two songs (‘The Mother we Share’ and ‘Never Say Die’) perhaps lacking some of the urgency and punch demonstrated earlier in the gig, it was still a triumphant night and the crowd returned home happy, pleased they’d made the effort to come out on one of the most mentally dispiriting days of the year. Anyway, there’s always tomorrow for Netflix.

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