I was gonna kick this off with that hackneyed old descriptor “meteoric”, but Alvvays’ stunning emergence has been nothing like the inexorable descent of a cosmic rock. Far from crumbling through the atmosphere or smashing into earth, the Canadian quintet is rocket-launching into the stratosphere.
They only released their nine-song debut album last summer (review) and just recently were propping up Real Estate at this very venue (though half the audience seemed to be there for them). Tonight, fresh from countless end-of-year list mentions, they’re headlining the Scala. It’s a sell-out – every inch of the place is occupied by some heart-wrenched fan.
‘Next Of Kin’, ‘The Agency Group’ and ‘Ones Who Love You’ lead the way, the former a jangly pacemaker, its tear-jerking chorus, “I left my love in the river / The only one who sees / I lost his hand in the current,” transformed into an anthem. The other two can be ranked amongst the eponymous record’s slower numbers, but here they’re subtly reshaped to envelope the relatively large venue with reverb and waves of guitar.
Singer Molly Rankin’s voice is fairly mellifluous and pretty by nature, but there are moments tonight where she pushes it to the point of yelling – as well as the occasional “Whoop!” – and it’s no bad thing. The dash of rock’n’roll to proceedings helps lift them from being ‘just another indie-pop band’.
Between songs, Rankin is charm itself, admitting she doesn’t know what ginger beer is, and asking us to choose between Yorkie and Double Decker, all with a disarmingly goofy graciousness. There’s a lengthy wait when she breaks a string – “We can’t afford to fly with spare guitars” – which she fills with an anecdote about playing in Scotland. “The crowd kept chanting the same thing over and over, but I couldn’t work it out with the accent. Finally, I realised what it was: ‘Marry me, Molly.’”
Alvvays’ most written-about track, ‘Archie, Marry Me’ arrives a few songs into the set. The crowd freaks out, but I remain vigilant and detect a little menace to this rendition. Apart from its almost Oasis-like guitars and cheeky, pseudo-bittersweet lyrics, the single encapsulates what I like about Alvvays – for the last chorus, there’s a pregnant pause as Rankin’s second “Hey” hangs in the air above only feedback, before the music thunders back in. It’s these little touches that turn Alvvays’ pleasant indie stylings into masterpieces.
Similarly, on the moving ‘Party Police’ – whose moving refrain is, “You don’t have to leave / You could just stay here with me” – there’s a moment on the final chorus as the synths and percussion gather behind Rankin’s words when her voice chokes on the word “could”, skipping into a high note. Just listen; it’s sublime.
After this, there’s the rattling fun of first single ‘Adult Diversion’, a kinda merger between Camera Obscura, The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and Black Tambourine, at the climax of which guitarist Alec O’Hanley tosses his guitar into the air and fails to catch it, making for a glorious cacophony. Then follows the most cursory of breaks, before a thumping version of The Primitives’ ‘Out Of Reach’ for the encore.
They close on a new song that sounds energetic, noisy and full of confidence. If it’s anything to go by, Alvvays have a big future ahead of them.
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Words: Darren Loucaides