Filling a venue such as the Olympia of a squally Sunday night is a challenge at best. Sure it’s essentially free entry with a few beverage tokens thrown in too, but the main attraction, and what the people behind Heineken Live Project got right, is a deftly constructed line-up – crafted of only three acts, it’s a cocktail that works perfectly.
Having Chad Valley as first on the bill was a bit of a head-scratcher though. Hugo Manual fronts alt-pop band Jonquil, has a suite of solo EPs and just dropped an album featuring the who’s who of indie-cool – namely Twin Shadow, Glasser, Fixers’ fella Jack Goldstein, El Perro Del Mar, Harry’s Gym singer Anne Lise Frøekdal, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs and Active Child. Without them and without a band, it’s just a desk of tricks and two microphones – little more is needed. To triggered backing tracks, drum machine and synth trickery, Hugo sings with vocal prowess: billowy, soft and utterly powerful. Hit after hit of swoony electro pop, epic balladry and a spell of retrograde styles infused with modernistic touches, Chad Valley has a canon of tunes and, above all, a voice that will see soon him rise to the top.
Compared to him, Chvrches seem to have been around for little more than a wet week, yet are already a fully formed pop machine. They’ve actually been together for a couple of years but have just recently hit out with their hook laden spin on electro pop. Rounded by wizened Gary Numan synth work and accomplished drum pad patterns, Chvrches are charged by strong songs and a youthful voice. Iain Cook and Martin Doherty are seasoned electronic musicians (The Twilight Sad and Aeroprogramme respectively) while singer Lauren Mayberry boasts a distinctively nascent vocal, generation defining even. Whatever of the perceived setup, production engineers and auditioned front woman, this is a formula (certainly in this instance) that really works. Sweet as sugar melodies on rich electronic instrumentation, songs with real lyrical intrigue. The complex ‘Science and Vision’ and confronting ‘Lies’ are carried off with such confidence (surprising, considering this has to be their biggest ever audience and also in a theatre so imposing) with just the right level of coy girl with big attitude, that by close of set it’s arms flaying and bouncing in the pit for the already anthemic ‘The Mother We Share’. Three words will follow this trio until the inevitable happens: ones to watch.
It all happened pretty instantly for Passion Pit as well, or at least it appeared that way. Chunk Of Change started off as a Valentine’s Gift for Michael Angelakos’s girlfriend. With band expansion, re-recording, proper release, some Pitchfork hyping and TV show endorsement, Passion Pit were everywhere – the poster boys for indie-electro pop coming out of the States. In contrast to the introspective source material that informs their debut album Manners and their follow-up Gossamer – the maximalist execution by the band is one of outward celebration. From the off it’s a call-and-response band/crowd relationship – ‘Take A Walk’ and its communally sung chorus, the “oh no” retort in ‘The Reeling’, even the demon bashing ‘I’ll Be Alright’ is beautified by a life-affirming refrain – leaving Angelakos breathing room to work the crowd, projecting his boundless energy into them. The band’s piled on synth-on-synth approach has certainly loosened as their stages have got bigger. ‘Eyes as Candles’ cruises with ‘70s pop flare, ‘Constant Conversations’ is a broken r&b jam (again with wordless audience sing back) and the bubbling squelchiness of ‘Live To Tell’ soars with added keyboards. There’s no such sway for ‘Sleepyhead’ or ‘Little Secrets’, the crowd won’t allow it anyway, as a glitchy-dance mutiny takes over and Passion Pit leave on a triumphant high.
Photos by Debbie Hickey