Live Review: CHVRCHES + City Calm Down - Oxford Art Factory (02.08.13)

Melbourne four-piece City Calm Down are confined to no more than a couple of square metres in the centre of the Oxford Art Factory stage, due to the vast array of equipment utilised by CHVRCHES occupying the majority of the area, but the openers make the most of their limited wiggle room, putting on a commanding and engaging half-hour performance.

The quartet’s brand of dance-pop goes down a treat with the already near-capacity audience, with tracks from their 2012 EP Movements, getting a strong showing. The obvious comparison to be made is to fellow Australians Cut Copy – Jack Bourke’s baritone is a dead ringer for that of Cut Copy frontman Dan Whitford – but the band are also clearly influenced by 80’s post-punk and Bloc Party-esque indietronica. These influences meld into a captivating combination of melancholy vocals and upbeat electronic instrumentation. Set-closer “Dare” is arguably the highlight of the night, with the synchronised percussion of Jeremy Sonnenberg and Michael Quirk leading to an awe-inspiring climax that brings to motion even the most nonchalant of punters.

CHVRCHES are the epitome of a ‘hype band’. With just a handful of songs released, the synthpop trio have accumulated enough of a following to sell out two shows at Sydney’s Oxford Art Factory. Given this meteoric rise to popularity, there is a level of fervour you would expect their appearance to evoke, but when the Scottish natives finally do arrive on stage, the crowd response is surprisingly reserved. There is little movement past the first couple of rows as the band belt out recent single “Lies”. It doesn’t make much sense, given that the group’s music seems tailored for this kind of setting, but the audience just doesn’t appear to be engaging with the performance they’re witnessing.

And while this is in part the fault of not only those in attendance tonight, but a live music culture that is increasingly touting the ‘silent standers’ as the ultimate group of gig-goers, some of the blame must be placed on the band who, despite appearing happy enough to be here, seem distant and detached from the product they’re selling. That’s not to say that Mayberry, Cook, and Doherty are bad musicians – they do a remarkable job of reproducing their recorded tracks in the face of technical difficulties – but even one of the band’s most beloved hits, “Gun”, despite all the movement from frontwoman Mayberry, is missing the punch that makes it such a killer track on record.

Given their extremely limited back-catalogue, most of tonight’s set is made of up of unreleased tracks, and by the sounds of things, their upcoming debut album will be one of the best records of the year. Dance floor banger “Lungs” is an early highlight, while “Tide”, sung by Doherty, appears alongside “Recover” and “The Mother We Share” to make for a thrilling finish to an otherwise forgettable set. Mayberry lets slip that CHVRCHES will return to our shores in January for Laneway Festival – let’s hope that a few more months of shows will transform the group’s live performance into something that truly does justice to their brilliant music.