Chvrches could headline ACL Fest in a couple years. These pixels to God’s ears.
Allow me to explain my credentials. I've seen the Scottish synth band live perhaps more than any other musical act over the years; I believe this ACL Fest marks my seventh, but I'm willing to call it my sixth if presented with compelling evidence. I'm prepared to take the long view. And mother, I'd like to share my heartfelt glee that Lauren Mayberry, Martin Doherty and Iain Cook played the heck out of a Zilker Park sunset.
Mayberry crackled and burned on the Honda stage Saturday evening, striking foes down from behind a black-streaked makeup mask that called upon the holy vengeance of Annie Lennox, circa the latter's 1992 Freddie Mercury tribute performance. (You should definitely watch that, by the way.) When she sang of red eyes in "Bury It," Mayberry sized up a invisible target with such steel you'd believe her pupils could beat someone up on their own. She thrashed, she stalked downstage with a mic stand clutched like a javelin, she sang "You better run" and pulsed it with cool rage and uplifted eyebrow. She does combat-booted karate kicks now, too.
The banter flowed loose and easy. Mayberry took a bet and doled out an "alright, alright, alright." The heat got a shoutout, because it's ACL, and that's what bands do: "We're too British for these temperatures. ... It's not breathable."
The band's music ("dance-crying music," Mayberry called it, "so you can figure out which way you wanna go") has always taken the listener to a space age where their own troubles and woes make the best rocket fuel. With the addition of a drummer on tour, that icy "Blade Runner" vibe felt more urgent. "Gun," a first-album standout, made the blood pump. The thumping "Miracle," a recent radio-ready single that you'd be forgiven for finding too Imagine Dragons-like if you stumbled upon it on a dial-spin, turned out to be a divine fit for a festival. Chvrches gave the kind of high where you wonder if there's something wrong with you but keep moving your body anyway.
Since this isn't their first rodeo, Chvrches has a catalog to dip into, and they swam deep. Martin Doherty's stomp-and-jump-and-feel showcase, "Under the Tide," swept the crowd up with the warmth it always does. "The Mother We Share," which I guess is still the band's signature song at this point, got a quiet, minimalist intro for goosebumps' sake. Mayberry dedicated "Leave a Trace" to survivors.
In honor of Saturday fest headliners Metallica, Mayberry called for a mid-set primal scream of a particular four-letter expletive, to mark what she called a sad day for humanity. She seemed to be referring to the confirmation of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court only hours earlier, though she pointed to Brexit as a reason the Scottish band couldn't judge. From where I was standing, it didn't seem like many in attendance abstained from the catharsis.
Dancing, crying, dance-crying. This is what Chvrches does. Leave it to the professionals.