- MUSIC FOCUS: PVRIS.
- ACTIVITY FOCUS: Review an album or live show and practise writing about structure!
PVRIS, Hammersmith Apollo
PVRIS have never been a band to pretend that the darkness doesn’t exist. Against the backdrop of a striking UK, their songs resonate more fiercely than ever. The trains aren’t running, the teachers aren’t teaching and, when ‘Animal’ drops, the wildness of it feels appropriate.
The furious ‘Monster’ adds to the effect and it’s fitting that the evening’s set begins with these two more recent singles. As raw as they are frenetic, they paint a picture of the world as it is: difficult and dangerous.
‘Mirrors’, though, is different. It’s a love song, and its brightness makes such an impact precisely because ‘Animal’ and ‘Monster’ are so dark.
As is the next number, ‘Dead Weight’: its increased pace reminds us how quickly the world can eat our goodness up. The beauty of ‘Mirrors’ – surrounded as it is, by threat and storminess – will vanish if we don’t keep fighting for a glimpse of it.
Not that a PVRIS gig is in any way depressing. The dystopian undercurrent might be hard to ignore, but it’s Lyndsey Gunnulfsen’s indefatigable spirit that excites and inspires us. And how much more impressive that spirit becomes when we consider the obsidian essence of the universe she’s describing. The trees on stage tonight, and the forest as a metaphor for human experience, make perfect sense. “Gimme a minute,” Lynn asks over and over – and no wonder. The intensity of the show’s opening quarter of an hour underlines how hard it can be to find time to think.
Then comes ‘What’s Wrong’. “Take the mirror from the wall,” Gunnulfsen sings and we can only understand her distress – and how heartbreaking this request is – because we’ve already listened to ‘Mirrors’. The mirror clearly serves as a symbol of hope, and it’s as if that hope is fragmenting.
The atramentous nature of the set condenses, but Gunnulfsen battles back, her resilience particularly noticeable in context of ‘What’s Wrong’. Her spirit is as clear as ever on ‘Fire’. “What you give is what you get,” she promises – an especially admirable mantra when we consider the “virus(es)”, “decay” and “corpse(s)” referenced in the lyrics. By holding onto her values in the face of such horror, she wins our respect.
‘Old Wounds’ is similarly impactful. “They say don’t open old wounds, but I’m going to,” is the kind of assertion that carries extra significance now that we comprehend the severity of those old wounds.
And ‘My Way,’ too, is thrillingly potent as a result of the hell so far depicted. It’s a declaration that, individually, we can live the life we want to, and the sense of epiphany is invigorating. Open with this confident, fun track and, as a crowd, we would enjoy the opportunity for a singalong. Position it this far into a relatively apocalyptic narrative, however, and each audience member drinks the moment of communion in, much as they would a glass of water in a desert. Situated at this point in proceedings, the song remains a pleasure, but it’s also a relief, a respite, a reminder that we are enough.
And now, for the first time in the set, the indomitable PVRIS allow us longer than a second in the light. ‘Anywhere But Here’ is like the first day of spring after the most brutal of winters and we savour it in a way we wouldn’t if we could take its softness and soothing quality for granted.
‘You and I’ escalates the feeling of positivity. When Lynn sings: ‘If you and I can make it through the night… we’ll meet in the middle,” the shivers down our spines are swooningly intense. The track could not possibly hit as hard as it does if PVRIS had not already highlighted the colossal amount of effort necessary to reach “the middle”. Fittingly, the crowd dance with abandon to this one. All of our hands are in the air. How can they not be when we’ve been guided so carefully to this place? From a starting point of almost utter blackness, we are really beginning to believe that – if we can just stretch high enough – we might be able to touch the sky.
Of course, though, the ‘wild’ still exists, and we haven’t reached the “middle” (and all it is coming to represent) quite yet. But a hard-won calmness has been injected into proceedings, and ‘Use Me’ is delivered by a band absolutely in control of their craft. “Stay put, babe, I’m coming for you,” Gunnulfsen vows, and we know she’ll do her best to keep her word.
We also know, though, that the harsh environment detailed in the earlier parts of the set hasn’t evaporated. This makes Lynn’s commitment to thinking about someone other than herself even more admirable. “Baby, you could be the death of me,” she acknowledges on ‘Death Of Me’ and a sentiment that might have felt hyperbolic at the start of proceedings does not actually feel exaggerated at all.
Which brings us to the encore – and to new song, ‘Goddess’. The track suits its epilogue-like role. This is the PVRIS singer/guitarist reminding us that she’s still standing. In fact, she’s stronger than ever – impressive, given the trials and tribulations detailed throughout the main set.
And now things really take off. ‘My House’ builds on the energy of ‘Goddess’ and it’s exhilarating. “I let you in”, Gunnulfsen admits, but NEVER AGAIN! Everyone in the Apollo respects the stand. We’re tired, we’ve been tested, and we appreciate the lesson in self-belief. It won’t be forgotten.
Finally, we come to ‘Hallucinations’. At the beginning of the evening, we might have swerved even thinking about it, but suddenly we’re less terrified by the future than we were. The world hasn’t changed – it’s still dark and it’s still difficult – but we’ve been instilled with a realisation that the: “New sensations” and “sweet temptations” are worth holding out for. With imaginations “running wild”, we pour out of the venue and back into London. The world’s the same forest it always was, but we’re sure now that the sun will break through its canopy intermittently – and that those moments of luminosity will make everything worthwhile. PVRIS have taught us that much.
Read the PVRIS review once more. Take careful note of the comments about the set’s structure. The impact of every single song is intensified by where its been positioned within the setlist – and the review makes this quite clear, looking at every part of the set in relation to the other parts. When commenting on structure, we are always looking to explain why a writer chose to place his ideas where they did. We are always asking ourselves: what order are things happening in? Why are they happening in that order?
Write your own review of an album or live show. You do not have to focus the whole article on structure but do make some reference to it e.g. why does the artist choose to start they way they do? Why does the middle have more impact because of what come before and/or what comes after? Why does the ending have more impact – or make more sense – because of what’s ‘happened’ earlier?
Please do send your own reviews (or questions) in. We want to publish the most exciting writing and offer advice.
Now, have a look at another PVRIS lesson.