CHVRCHES / Soak – O2 Academy, Newcastle – Friday 7th March 2014

If there’s been a Scottish music success story in the last couple of years it is undoubtedly CHVRCHES. From virtually nowhere, they’ve gone to almost selling out 2,000 capacity venues in England – all that without much of a hit single.

Despite the fact that its members all have pedigrees in the alternative Scottish scene, I’ve been something of a CHVRCHES agnostic. What little I’d heard before didn’t particularly excite me and it was only when we were looking for a possible gig to go whilst in Newcastle that I listened to the LP. Ultimately the show reinforced what I’d thought of the record.

For my money, ‘Lies’ is their stand-out song, its dramatic synths connecting with distant memories of Tubeway Army but it was dispensed with early on, leaving me wondering whether or not it might have made a second appearance in the encores. (In the event, it didn’t.)

Their other big tune is set closer (and Top 40 single) ‘The Mother We Share’. Although its modern pop trickery is just a little too arch for my tastes I can certainly understand its appeal.

Otherwise they often seem to settle for a less distinctive anthemic rave sound. Even with the odd quieter tune you know that the beats are going to kick in at some point and in a fist pumping manner at that.

The first encore was probably the other song that stood out for me, not surprisingly since both Iain and Martin played guitar. Apparently this was only its second live outing but it was one of the few not to depend on those massive beats which allowed the music a rare chance to breathe.

For all that I found elements of the set samey, at just over an hour, there was enough variety to keep me interested and the fairly impressive lighting show helped as well.

Support came, slightly surprisingly, from a singer/songwriter with an acoustic guitar. Soak’s delivered a short set of slightly downbeat acoustic pop which generated the conflicting responses of a lot of talking during the tunes but also a good audience response at the end of each song.

Aside from the music it was a slightly curious night. It was such an early show (doors at 6.30 p.m., the band on at 8.15 p.m.) that a few folk were caught out with some still being shown to seats near the end of CHVRCHES main set.

Then an absolute first going out and one of the daftest things I’ve ever seen at a gig.

As a former bingo hall (and presumably cinema in a previous life), the Academy has fairly limited exits from the balcony area, which would be crowded at the best of times. But things were made far worse by the fact that people were pushing their way against the flow back UP the stairs.

The reason for this only became clear at the foot of the stairs – these people were being sent up the stairs by stewards to join the queue for the cloakroom – which was actually located on the ground floor. How on earth they eventually found the end of the queue I have no idea, but it seemed such a bad idea on so many levels.