Imagine Chvrches playing “MTV Unplugged.” But still, you know, a little plugged. Just as functionally plugged as absolutely necessary.
The Scottish synth-pop band hit South by Southwest’s Radio Day Stage on Friday for a stripped down, intimate set that made you realize that a Scottish synth-pop band can do stripped down and intimate. The trio’s been all over the place this SXSW, from an ill-conceived DJ set at the fest’s opening party to a shiny stadium-style stunner at the MTV Woodies to a sunset set at Spotify House. Chvrches has blown up since they made their SXSW debut a few years ago. It’s been a fascinating exercise to see them show different facets in different venues this year, for good or for ill.
Sandwiched on Friday between a rousing “Never Ending Circles” (which Lauren Mayberry said she forgot the words to Thursday) and an even more rousing “Leave a Trace,” gorgeous shadow loomed over several songs that normally fizz brightly. Starting with an amazingly downcast performance of “Recover” straight out of John Carpenter movie, Mayberry, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook synced their melancholy lyrics with uncharacteristically melancholy synths.
The always hilarious Mayberry (who squeezed in some Jon Bon Jovi jokes) knows we’re onto their songwriting tactics, explaining the upbeat-but-sad dichotomy that marks the Chvrches catalogue: “But we trick people!” Their performance of “The Mother We Share” waded into the same doom and gloom as “Recover,” with Mayberry’s iridescent voice poking pinholes of light instead of the normal rush of sugar. “Afterglow,” normally moody, held the set together like a pin with wobbly bass and humpback whale tones.
Mayberry joked that a clutch of sad songs was a funny way to ease into Friday. But no joke, it was actually the perfect chill pill to unplug from a festival that can wear you ragged.