Alvvays and forever: live concert review
The Weeknd, Justin Bieber, Celine Dion, Avril Lavigne, Alvvays.
Sure, it may be overly decorated Canadian company, but only one artist managed to top tastemaker Pitchfork’s top five for album of the year in 2022. Sporting three indie classic LPs, Alvvays has firmly cemented themselves as one of Canada’s premiere exports — or at least one that appeals to the dad sneakers, mom jeans and lumpy ball cap crowd.
On March 11, Mac Hall played evening host to 2,000+ pairs of New Balances in their cavernous “basement” campus venue. On this particular frigid winter’s night, the university event space is pushing capacity. Teens wander over from their residence dorms without jackets (what’s a 10 minute walk in freezing temperatures versus $3 coat check?) and the Hall is abuzz with anticipation. It’s also the place of my alma mater, where I spent the better half of a decade obtaining my degree and where I saw my very first show — a fitting locale for a band that soundtracked most of my 20’s.
As the keeners stake their ground at the front of the pit, openers Big Rig jangle through a short collection of banjo-driven pop hooks. Charming and disarming, they strum the theme to HBO’s latest hit “The Last of Us” while tuning. The series was filmed in Calgary and surrounding areas, quickly making it a recognizable cultural touchpoint and content-factory for all things tourism in the city.
The real winners of the evening were the venue’s nearby Jugo Juice, conveniently located in the quarantine zone that encompassed the concert area basement. Bottled water was only $3, but the ritzy crowd chose to instead sip Mighty Kales and carrot-concoctions while leaning against the side walls. Stay hydrated, folks!
Line up for the check. Line up for a T-shirt. Line up for the beer garden. Lights go down, a muted roar erupts through my earplugs, a little nod and wave, the kick of a pedal, fuzz.
Alvvays rips, busting out of the gate with songs from their latest highly acclaimed album Blue Rev. Flawlessly dialed-in with analog adornments, the band is incredibly tight, bouncing between sonic soundscapes with poise and precision. Blue Rev stands as a monolith to their maturity in sound; we first caught them 8 years ago at Sasquatch 2015, and their progression is palpable with every note. Boasting shoegaze sensibilities with soaring pop hooks, Alvvays’ sound is every bit as fresh and contemporary as their first release nearly a decade previous.
“Shoutout to my mom for coming to a University show,” exclaims an exuberant Molly Rankin, the group’s lead singer-songwriter.
As the crowd swells, there’s barely any room to move. A young girl faints in the front row to the rush of security, and the thermostat is cranked. Rankin jokes “Is the heat on in here?” wiping sweat from her brow. A narrow path emerges at the back of the crowd. I peel back to the soundboard to capture more images from the back of the room. Distorted projections and burnt film flicker on screens behind the band, awash in colour. It’s a more low-key visual set-up for the room, but a perfect compliment to Alvvays’ ever-present analog sensibilities.
Despite their two previous albums reaching beloved status and vaulting them into the indie-darling spotlight, Alvvays leaned sparingly on their back catalog, electing to play Blue Rev in its entirety. Perhaps it was a conscious choice to distance themselves from the tweenage laments of their earlier work. “Marry Me, Archie” is greeted by a sea of eager cell phones; “Dreams Tonite” receives a similar reaction.
There are far fewer of these saccharine moments on Blue Rev, an album more focused on the use of Molly’s voice as an instrument in the mix. It certainly boosts their credit as very serious musicians, though sacrificing some of their more accessible and poignant vulnerability. The textures are more granular, guitars and distortions more angular and nuanced, but gone are the forlorn ballads of yester-year and many of the band’s effortless, sentimental hooks.
Clocking just over an hour, the band received a raucous round of applause ahead of the inevitable encore.
“This one’s for Chad,” muses Molly, before breaking into the signature guitar lick from their first album’s “Atop a Cake”. Presumably the call out is a nod to Chad VanGaalen, Calgary art-rock legend and producer of their first album. Judging by the sheer number of floppy ball caps and thrifted slacks, a passing glance in any direction of the audience might reveal a Chad or two of its own. This one is for them too.
Words and photos by Jarrett Edmund.