As I waited for Scottish electropop outfit CHVRCHES to take the stage on the lawn of the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, the list of memories from the nine previous times seeing this band ran through my head.
There was the first time I saw them – two years ago at the Palladium. I saw a couple break up as Lauren Mayberry’s words cut through them like a knife during “Recover,” one of the most heartbreaking songs from their repertoire.
There was the most recent time seeing them – from near the very front at Firefly Festival in Dover, Delaware. After seeing them perform, I saw Mayberry join Death Cab for Cutie on stage the very next set to sing “Brothers on a Hotel Bed” before faking anxiety so security would pull me over the rail and I could more easily make my way out of the crowd towards an M83 set on the opposite side of the festival. The previous weekend, I saw CHVRCHES perform at Bonnaroo, a set that saw Paramore’s Hayley Williams join them for “Bury It.”
Despite being my 10th time seeing the band – a designation shared by few others (Jenny Lewis, St. Lucia, Courtney Barnett, Meg Myers, Ryn Weaver) – there’s always a fresh excitement that comes with seeing this band live. Seeing them grow from the Palladium, especially in terms of stage presence from Mayberry and fellow vocalist Martin Doherty, has been a delight. On this night, I’d bump into a few friends — one hadn’t seen them and the other hadn’t since touring their first record. I was excited for them. This band always hits me right in the feels. Every damn one of them.
It can be hard for a synthpop band to fit their sound to larger-scale venues. CHVRCHES has no such issue. Their show at the Shrine Auditorium last October proved to me they could scale up their production and sound to any venue. They proved themselves ready for the daunting task of playing the large outdoor lawn of the Hollywood Cemetery, undoubtedly aided by their many main-stage festival performances this past summer.
CHVRCHES knows how to offset new material with old favorites, switching back and forth seamlessly. They also do a great job switching it up between their high-energy bangers and slower more ballady tunes. They kicked things off on a high note with the lively “Never Ending Circles” from their latest record Every Open Eye. Then they dialed it back with “We Sink” from their breakthrough first record The Bones of What You Believe. Both songs were met with the same level of excitement, suggesting that fans have no preference to either album, no doubt due to the strength of both records.
CHVRCHES proved themselves ready for the daunting task of playing the large outdoor lawn of the Hollywood Cemetery,
undoubtedly aided by their many main-stage festival performances this past summer.
I’d go as far to suggest that their songs sound even more dynamic in a live setting. The percussion and synths that open up songs like “Make Them Gold” and takes place in the final build of “We Sink” build the kind of anticipation that is more commonly found in big-room EDM. The difference is CHVRCHES brings a higher-caliber songwriting with them as no song’s chorus is repetitive despite the hooks being just as catchy as the more mainstream electronic stuff.
Another thing about this band is their ability to transform my enjoyment of some of their songs live. “Science/Visions” from their first record is one of my least favorite CHVRCHES songs. But after they ripped through it midway through the set, I turned to the person next to me and said, “Fuck, I don’t even really like that song and it still had me more excited than most concerts.” That’s the mark of a really good band.
After performing “Lies,” the first song they ever released back in 2012, Mayberry couldn’t help but laugh. That’s their oldest song but Mayberry said, “I can never remember the damn words.”
Martin Doherty’s two-song lead vocals on “High Enough to Carry You Over” and “Under the Tide” got great receptions. I always thought the former could’ve easily been a Lenny Kravitz ballad from the ‘90s.
Mayberry and her bandmates do a great job breaking up the seriousness of their lyrics with lighthearted banter between songs. Mayberry basically performed five minutes of stand-up comedy after a raucous rendition of “Bury It,” ending it by asking that crowd members “please, please, please don’t vote for [Donald Trump].”
The band closed their main set with two songs from their latest record. First it was the album’s first single “Leave a Trace” and then “Clearest Blue,” a clear crowd favorite. They’d return to the stage for a two-song encore, starting with “Afterglow” then “The Mother We Share” coming next. I recall this being the first CHVRCHES song I ever heard.
CHVRCHES took the stage at 8 pm for a surprisingly early set after Best Coast played an energetic hour-long set at 6:30. The show was so damn good that I’d consider going back for round two today if Phantogram’s set time at the Palladium wasn’t so early.
Best Coast were fantastic and I love seeing how they’ve grown since becoming a five piece. Their sound has gained depth, especially songs from their underrated record from last year California Nights. My favorites were “In My Eyes” and “Feeling OK,” two songs that came just after frontwoman Bethany Cosentino pointed out how awesome the moon looked. It was a great reminder to how special and unique seeing a show in a cemetery in Hollywood can be and it’s something that isn’t lost on me the next morning.
If you don’t have plans today, tickets are still available to night two from CHVRCHES and Best Coast at the Hollywood Cemetery tonight. Gates open at 6 PM, so get there early.
n at 6 PM, so get there early.
Top photo courtesy of Tara Schroetter