It has only been about seven months since CHVRCHES released its debut album, but in that time, it has reached No. 12 on the charts and the band has embarked on a world tour that will stop at the summer’s biggest festivals. It’s been an explosion of indie success for the band, but in Denver this week CHVRCHES still found some time to slow down. The Scottish synth-pop act took a post-Coachella break to catch tUnE-yArDs open for Arcade Fire at the Pepsi Center on Wednesday. Between its main set and the encore at the Ogden Theatre on Thursday, guitarist/producer Iain Cook took a moment to chat with a fan in the front row about the person’s t-shirt. “I love tUnE-yArDs,” Cook said. “We were there.”
Earlier that night, the Glasgow-esque rain contrasted the beautiful evening air as the line for the Ogden Theatre wrapped around the block past Angelo’s. Inside, there were hints of spring beginning as the crowd packed in. The between-set mix featured some of the electro-pop hits of the last few years including MGMT, Animal Collective and Hot Chip. Soon enough lights dimmed, smoke rose, bass swelled and the nearly iconic, stark stage arrangement became occupied.
CHVRCHES wasted no time (no lyrical pun intended) by launching into “We Sink.” From left to right Iain Cook, Lauren Mayberry and Martin Doherty dropped a bassy synth pop noise in heavy chunks on the capacity crowd. Even though the sticky beats and the catchy hooks and melodies were turned up to “extremely dancable,” the Denver fans were merely head-bobbers by and large. Even the pit seemed a little calm — especially compared to the fever this band has whipped the Internet into. Club stompers like “Gun” and “Recover” would get people moving a bit more, but only a dedicated few were fully letting loose.
This stoicism might be due to the band’s uninterested demeanor. Throughout the night an aggressive, strobe-heavy light show blasted the audience from behind the band. Cook, Mayberry and Doherty were bathed in shadow and hardly moving throughout the set. Cook and Doherty did jump around more towards the end of the set, mostly when wearing guitars. But this was hardly enough to coax the crowd into action. This was more of a sing-along than a dance party.
But the band managed to charm the audience with accent-tinted banter. During the break after “Night Sky” Mayberry was charmingly joking about Jonas Bros. Furs on Broadway. The adorable quips were punctuated by audience shouts of “Denver loves CHVRCHES!” (evidence they were into it). Then the always entertaining Cook chimed in with “Where’s the Miley Cyrus abortion clinic?” and Doherty, laughing, delicately steered the cheeky bit into the next song.
All told, CHVRCHES’ first show in Denver was very fun if not fully engaging. Festivals will satisfy the need for more interactive audiences at this point in their career. Remixes aside, they only have enough songs for a festival-length set anyway. Clocking in right at an hour, it was a short and very sweet dip into a pop experiment turned power tour.
Marc Hobelman makes websites at The Denver Post, tweets pictures of his cat and is a regular contributor to Reverb.
Shannon Shumaker is a Denver photographer. You can find more of her work on Facebook.