As bits of what Chvrches’ lead vocalist Lauren Mayberry described as “stage chat” go, it was revealing.
An off-hand comment about how none of the three band members, stationed almost equidistant from one another across the Bomb Factory’s sizable stage, could hear any of the audience members shouting, thanks to their in-ear monitors, led to a digression about Peanuts (the “wah-wah” of the teacher is what Mayberry said everyone sounded like).
That exchange spilled into a confession the 28-year-old Mayberry surely didn’t intend to sum up the band’s music.
The Charles Schultz cartoon is “never totally happy, never totally sad,” Mayberry observed. “It’s ‘happy-sad’ — I can relate to that; split right down the middle.”
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The music Chvrches (pronounced “churches”) makes — nominally described as “synth-pop,” a critical buzzword and shorthand for immaculate melodies wrapped tightly in gleaming synthesizers and thudding bass lines capable of dislodging fillings — is precisely such a thing: a “happy-sad” blend of uplift and despair, borne aloft by Mayberry’s sparkling vocals and her restless stage presence, a splash of vivid color against deep, dark shadows.
For roughly 80 minutes Thursday, Chvrches pulled from its latest album, this year’s superb Every Open Eye, as well as its breakout 2013 debut, The Bones of What You Believe.
This gig — tighter, brighter and subtly ambitious — was no less sharp than the band’s last North Texas showing two years ago.
Befitting their sophomore album’s more intense nature, Mayberry and her bandmates, Iain Cook and Martin Doherty, amped up the visual presentation, with strobing lights and great yawning screens projecting an endless, restless array of abstract images. The near-capacity crowd, filling the floor with bodies lost in the rhythms filling the air, roared with pleasure.
But as captivating as it all was to the eye, the ear reaped even greater rewards, as the trio deployed a smartly assembled set list of ebbs and flows, kicking off with the crunching Never Ending Circles.
Alternating between Eye and Bones — Keep You on My Side up against Lies spun into Make Them Gold — Chvrches never took its foot off the gas.
And really listening — peeling back the sleek packaging to glimpse the emotional core of each song — further reinforced the notion of Chvrches as a band deftly straddling that specific “happy-sad” boundary: “Will we ever get away from this place/It’s an image that’s burned on my chest,” Mayberry sang during Tether, a bleak line in almost any other context but this one.
It’s a balance Chvrches has not only maintained, but, perhaps even more improbably, fashioned into a burgeoning, acclaimed career.
No small feat, that, but as you close your eyes, letting the throbbing, glowing, soaring sensation take hold, you understand: Chvrches has only just begun to make itself heard.