Chapel Club are hot right now, but not as hot as this club. It’s so hot in here that the air is thick with moisture, making the results of flash photography look the Victorians’ weird efforts to capture ghosts on film. Like a hotel maid, club staff lay a fresh towel alongside each musician’s instrument – cheaper than air con, I suppose.
Chapel Club have gone through something of a metamorphosis. Gone are the tight trousers, cropped haircuts, serious expressions and downbeat lyrics of their previous incarnation as post-Editors, Interpol-esque guitar-wranglers. Here at Birthdays the superheated crowd await the new sound that singer and lyricist Lewis Bowman has described as, in a candidate for Understatement of the Year, “pretty different”.
To whoops from the crowd come the opening strains of ‘Scared’ – gentle strands of echoing synth and filigree guitar spun together, a crescendo that drops with a bassline that is nothing short of a groove.
It’s a summer record, drenched in reverb and delicate synth lines that tumble like blossom in a heat haze. “When I was only young/To me the world was mine, in which to go have fun,” sings Bowman sweetly. “Now I am fully grown/I’m not saying I’m happy but/I’m not alone.” It’s not every day a pop group channels St Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians. “I know that you might be feeling a little scared/But it’s nothing to be ashamed of”, he croons, striking a note with everyone in the room – old cynical gits, young idealistic fools, and all points in between.
Under the pitch bend and glissando bass of ‘Sleep Alone’ the skins are battered in the approximation of a hiphop beat while Bowman – whose vocal range is impressive – caterwauls over the top. ‘Jenny Baby’, a song apparently and inexplicably about Jennifer Lopez, is a wash of acid lines, throbbing bass and deep, dubby drums.
Versions of ‘Surfacing’ and ‘The Shore’ from their debut album follow, refashioned to be bigger, bassier, beatier and more danceable in keeping with the new material.
Bowman’s crew cut aside, synthmeister Michael Hibbert, Liam Arklie on bass, guitarist Alex Parry, and drummer Rich Mitchell now sport flowing locks, t-shirts and loose-fitting clothing. The sound is heavy, dubby, druggy, clubby. People are dancing, everyone is sweating. What have the band being doing in Los Angeles? If they could bottle it, they’d make a fortune. Everything’s got baggier. Were they locked in a room listening to Ultra Vivid Scene, Slowdive and the Happy Mondays?
Sometimes a band has tracks just made for opening or closing sets. Wrapping up tonight is ‘Good Together’, a fairly epic ten-minute drum and bass work out whose rising and falling arpeggios echo the sentiments of Bowman’s lyrics, as two people tumble in and out of love. Around the four minute mark it dissolves into an extended deep house instrumental broken up with snatched, echoing samples of Bowman’s voice. Blissed-out pop music with big rhythms. The lights come on, the crowd left wanting more.