Churches – Stereo, Glasgow – 22/7/12

Posted: 23/07/2012 in Local Music
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Churches aren’t really an unsigned act. Their line-up comprising members of Aereogramme, Blue Sky Archives and the Twilight Sad, they are a group who have enjoyed keen label attention since day one. Add to this their purposely sparse online output (one song made available, to date) and secretive demeanour (reportedly under instruction to limit the amount of interviews they grant) and you have a recipe for frenzied hype and extensive expectations.

As such, the excitement proves difficult to contain as the descent of the staircase leading to the Stereo basement culminates in the discovery of a venue already packed to capacity, giving rise to the feasible musing that support act Churches have perhaps served as more of a pull for tonight’s gig than headliners School of Seven Bells.

The cavernous space buzzes with eager chatter and excited conjecture, as skinny-jeaned obscure indie t-shirted types swig from cans of Foster’s and wait for what they clearly hope will turn out to be their very own version of the Sex Pistols’ 1976 Lesser Free Trade Hall gig.

—–

The electro pop trio emit fairly nervous vibes as they make an entrance completely devoid of aplomb, pausing for a second in front of their keyboards and microphones to furtively take in the swelled audience before them.

From the moment Iain and Martin begin to bash out the first notes of the group’s synth-based ditties though, frontwoman Lauren appears to find her ease and sink into the relaxed pursuit of matching her undeniably excellent vocals to the atmospherics provided by her male counterparts.

For reasons which will be outlined later in this feature, it wouldn’t be appropriate to describe any of the members of Churches as being in possession of an onstage persona, per se. However, in saying that, Lauren has certainly made an effort to look the part, resplendent as she is in Lily Allen-esque dress and gold chain combination with eye make-up paying homage to the likes of Adam Ant and David Bowie.

Unfortunately, Lauren is where any regard for appearances or aesthetics comes to an abrupt halt, the other two members clearly preferring to let the music do the talking. Drably dressed and seemingly uninterested in their outward appearance, the guys could easily be two audience members who entered through the wrong door.

It’s not until the second of the songs that Lauren’s Scottish accent begins to shine through and this is one of Churches’ definite positives. Although the vocalist’s origins are plain to hear and she makes no attempt to modify or conceal them when she sings, it is subtle enough that it compliments rather than defines the music of which it forms a part.

It is hugely refreshing not to have the same old clichéd Scottish accent aurally foisted upon you (something numerous West of Scotland bands have recently been guilty of) throughout every song, with all the subtlety of an ALBA bumper sticker, to the extent that the artist actually seems to be putting on their native twang. For their refusal to participate in this despicable crime against the Scottish music scene, Churches are to be applauded.

For the crowd’s part, they appear rapt throughout the performance. However, even the most basic powers of deduction would provide one with niggling doubts as to the trigger for this state. Given that, by the end of the third song, no one onstage has spoken a word and the trudging tempo has remained stiflingly monotonous, it seems that either the crowd are simply ecstatic to be at the epicentre of the Churches hype machine or patiently awaiting the rendition of the one song they’ve already heard and approved.

To return to the aforementioned absence of onstage personas is to highlight the biggest gripe with tonight’s performance. It isn’t just that the members of Churches don’t transform into modern-day Ziggy Stardusts when they take the stage; it’s that their collective performance is bereft of any stage presence whatsoever. When the fortune and speedy rise to fame of the threesome is considered, this lack of vigour feels like an insult to the multitudes of other unsigned Scottish acts who have been plugging away for years in hopes of gaining this sort of profile. Lauren, Iain and Martin should be ecstatic tonight! They should be bouncing off the walls of a room charged with crashing synths and the feeling of a grand unveiling. As it is, this feels more like a shoegaze resurgence for the iTunes generation.

As lacking in momentum or volatility as the performance may be, the first few songs are still fairly enjoyable and, from this, one is spurred to consider that perhaps the chagrin being experienced is just the inevitable disappointment that comes with seeing an enigma made flesh.

After the generation of such mysterious hype, limited interview exposure, secret live appearances under different monikers and the restrained decision to release only one (absolutely mind-blowing) song, the in-person unveiling of Churches – replete with beards, baseball  caps and Sub Club chic – is a sobering sight indeed.

Perhaps if the group hadn’t been so hyped up by all and sundry – before they really got their foot in the live performance door – tonight would be a much more impressive spectacle.

Fuckin’ music bloggers, eh!?

All such ruminations aside, by the penultimate song the hipster melancholia has become inescapably wearing. This is a rainy Sunday night in Glasgow and, the performers being natives of this fair city, they ought to be as aware as anyone that people require a soothing and uplifting antidote for the imminent onset of the Monday comedown. What they don’t need is hipster posturing and post-emo phrase-mongering, à la “there is no violence in your heart.”

The absolute highlight of the evening comes when Fix Up, Look Sharp… – Sorry… Lies – kicks in. The performance of this absolute party-starter of a tune is almost worth the entry fee in itself and very nearly makes up for the drudgery that preceded it, as the volume and impact levels ramp up and the room-quaking bassline and carefree vocal-play see this finale stand in stark contrast to the rest of the set. The motions of the crowd make it clear that this is what everyone here has been waiting for and, if Churches can produce more material of this standard, they are onto a definite winner.

Infinitely superior to the rest of their output and undoubtedly destined to top any ‘Best Newcomer of 2012’ list, this portion of electro pop genius – witnessed in a live setting – makes the move to only release Lies seem suddenly all the more shrewd. Was the limited availability of material actually because they knew that Lies is, to date, their only exceptional song?

There is certainly no denying that it is an absolute banger but, if tonight’s recital can be used as a legitimate marker, the live Churches experience is simply below par for those who like their stage shows lively and their musicians awake.

The vast majority of the material showcased would be better experienced as part of a background playlist in the car, rather than as filler for a live show based around one (albeit phenomenal) hit.

Of course, it may well be the case that Churches are destined to unleash many more hits like Lies and that they’ve naively succumbed to the demands generated by their own hype and embarked upon a stint of live performances before being equipped with enough strong material to back them up.

For now though, the earlier comparison to the ’76 Sex Pistols gig seems like an outright slap in the face to the punk icons (even considering Mr. Rotten’s latter-day transformation from aural terrorist to purveyor of margarine) as, in contrast to the much-documented danger and excitement of that performance, this one is entirely benign.

To invoke Public Enemy’s Chuck D…

“Don’t believe the hype!”

Churches on Facebook

Lies Music Video

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