Metacritic averages? Spotify streams? Mercury nominations? Pah – we all know that there’s only one true bellwether for your fortunes as a new band, and that’s the density of touts hawking tickets for your show outside the venue. It doesn’t matter how many blogs are feting you: if the air outside the doors isn’t thick with the zombie moan of buy and sell and the pavement pressed with slightly soiled anoraks then you’re no-one.
It’s good times ahead for Chvrches, then, as there’s thousands of the fuckers outside the Shepherd’s Bush Empire – although less so for those at the mercy of their mark-ups. “Who are these people anyway?” says one as he merrily fingers a wedge of notes extracted from the evening’s victims. “I saw them on Jools Holland,” replies another. “A load of noise, they were.”
They are, indeed, a load of noise. Arriving partway into the opening song after a guestlist queue that stretched eternal and it’s striking how much volume two banks of synths and three microphones can make: certainly We Sink and Gun possess a lot more impact live than on record, boasting a sonic punch that matches the sociopathy of their lyrics. They’re also absurdly, compulsively danceable – terrible news for all of us trapped in the balconies, perched forwards on our folding seats in an effort to find the space to move.
That’s the key problem this evening: that for a soundtrack this kinetic the venue is far too static. Even downstairs on the floor the majority of people stand stock-still, their phone-cameras trained on Lauren Mayberry as though they completely missed the memo on her desire not to be objectified. Upstairs is much the same, but the pictures are grainer: one guy two rows in front has his phone zoomed in on the singer throughout, the framing shaking erratically in line with his heavy breathing. Too few people really respond as the music demands: these are songs to flail limbs to, to sweat and soak and damage muscles to, and despite the best efforts of the guy with the glowsticks being locked in his chair he just looks as though he’s guiding in a plane.
Whatever – that’s not the band’s fault, and they deliver a heck of a set here. Thirteen songs strong and covering everything bar the closer from The Bones Of What You Believe, it’s an hour that shows just how powerful three-and-a-half minutes of pop structure and electro hooks can be – from the industrial swell of Science and Visions to Recover’s anthemic drive and Tether’s arms up and lasers on rave crescendo.
They’ve not quite got the lasers yet but Chvrches’ stage set is growing, the dance of lights supplying the visual dynamism that the three-piece themselves perhaps lack: they’re hardly Kraftwerk, but watching people pressing buttons – however passionately – never counts as stage presence, and a combination of nervousness and a heavy cold holds Mayberry back from cutting loose. There’s no such reticence from Martin Doherty, though: freed from his synths for Under The Tide he makes full use of the stage, dancing like a slightly broken marionette as the riffs strafe and the drums build around him.
It’s a moment that highlights Chvrches’ only real weakness – translating the energy of their material into a visceral stage experience. But for now at least, as closer The Mother We Share bounces vocal arpeggios beneath cocaine harmonies and caverned beats and the people downstairs finally put the phones down and their arms up and just let go, the material is more than enough to ensure that the touts keep on swarming.