Back in the day — you know, that time moms and dads like to talk about — the best synth-pop came with an element of theater, whether it was the menacing otherworldliness of Gary Numan, the futuristic absurdity of DEVO or the sexual charisma of Annie Lennox in Eurythmics.
Hot Scottish export Chvrches has a pretty girl and some pretty lights to go with the pretty songs, and that’s about it.
The band, which made its underwhelming Pittsburgh debut Wednesday at a sold-out Stage AE, is touring on a first album, “The Bones of What You Believe,” that has been well-received for the trio’s use of vintage synthesizers around Mayberry’s siren vocals.
Having watched their rather dull Coachella stream, I hesitated to go (and almost stuck with Amos Lee, who sounded great at TRAF) but Chvrches deserved the benefit of the doubt, having had to play Indio in a 90-degree wind storm during the daylight, just about the worst circumstances for a moody synth act.
It wasn’t all that much more exciting in the dark.
A friend who loves Euro-pop, and happened to be standing just a few feet away, tweeted at me, “She’s adorable!”
Yes, she is. And she sang beautifully, but she’s a deer in the headlights and needs something more than two guys next to her standing at keyboards, with drum programs. The only real movement on the stage came from Martin Doherty, who flailed his arms a little and occasionally made it look like there was some painful intensity involved in pushing synthesizer buttons. He also stepped out to take the vocal on “Under the Tide,” one of the show’s more uptempo moments, and “You Caught the Light.”
The hour-long set consisted of the full debut album, plus bonus track “Strong Hand,” with opener “We Sink” and the more tribal “Science/Visions,” being among the highlights. Mayberry stopped a few times to mention that she loved the Andy Warhol Museum and the penguins (the Aviary?) and was freaked out by the tornado warning (she must think we get those all the time).
The crowd watched politely, taking in the impressive V-shaped light display, saving most of its excitement for set-closing, Purity Ring-meets-Abba single “The Mother We Share.”
Chvrches might come back around with another acclaimed album, but the band is going to have to tweak the presentation. Maybe they should screen “Urgh! A Music War” for ideas.