Lauren Mayberry @ SWG3, Glasgow, 5 Oct
Lauren Mayberry's debut solo show in the UK is a night of exploration, excitement, and 80s-inspired pop
Lauren Mayberry’s maiden solo voyage is a fascinating confluence of experiences. It's the performance of as-yet-unheard material by a performer who, as the frontwoman of CHVRCHES, has headlined the OVO Hydro, and yet given the format of the tour (promotional without an attached album, and the first as a solo artist) opts for the smaller space of SWG3's TV Studio. It’s contextual overload yet Mayberry is unfazed as ever, a resolute technician on the stage, and the material presented is a diamond, the result of the considerable pressure of the campaign writ large.
Introduced by Liza Minelli’s Maybe This Time squawking through the sound system, the rolling synths of Bird rumble forward, and Mayberry comes to stage, tee emblazoned with ‘Safety, dignity and healthcare for all trans people’. The combination of sound and visuals command urgency, Bird’s chorus ending ‘When I burn down the house / You’ll know why I did it’. It’s musically familiar given the performer, but when the synths largely drop out as she and her band move into the chorus, it becomes clear why it’s the set opener: there is absolute focus on Mayberry, in identity and in voice.
This feels like the show’s main thesis: the musical inspirations and aspirations of Mayberry’s exploration, without the tether of her associated band's musical diplomacy. A choice of cover at the midpoint of the set is a signifier of this; Madonna’s Like a Prayer provides some aspect of familiarity that the audience can sing back to Mayberry, whilst also acting as intended pastiche. Changing Shapes and Crocodile Tears embody the 80s pallet absolutely, both audibly and visually (purple and yellow spotlights spinning from the ceiling of the compact stage) recalling Madonna's 1984 performance of Holiday on Solid Gold, while directing the audience to a clear difference between the artist being presented and the identity as frontwoman that we previously knew of Mayberry.
Genre and mode vary: Mayberry takes to a stage riser for Mantra, dark and bubbling, infinite repetitions of ‘I want it’ becoming increasingly, meditatively sinister. Sorry, Etc. brings the rage, a screaming Mayberry invoking the electro-backed anger of Peaches or Karen O, the song somewhat reminiscent of Yuk Foo/Play the Greatest Hits-esque Wolf Alice. Second single Shame is a highlight; angular electronic pop interpolated by an earworm guitar riff.
It is unavoidable that the CHVRCHES ethos is echoed in both the audience – it's there in the audience wearing the band's T-shirts, and has brought in and cultivated the wall-to-wall crowd – and in Mayberry, though no CHVRCHES songs are found here; a conscious choice of hers to separate ‘her solo era’ from the band’s past and future. She states early in the show that dualism in this instance is possible: there can be love and support for the collective and the individual in parallel.
The hometown environment is palpable. Mayberry’s feelings about the current Conservative government and their deplorable actions this week creates a sweeping, resounding ‘Fuck the Tories!’ chant; all of this before an ovation of adoration, prior to the final song, renders Mayberry emotional. It feels like the only unrehearsed moment; Mayberry is a consummate professional whose shows run like clockwork, and, despite a smaller stage than she would usually inhabit, her spins and silhouettes mark the familiar iconography of her decade fronting CHVRCHES, with humorous asides as topical and wry as ever. All of this contributes to a performance that is ephemeral but genuinely exciting, and a preview of the second form of one of synth-pop’s most consistent songwriters and performers.