9th September 2017
After their 2014 self-titled debut album revealed a highly promising act armed with a considerable knack for melodic, reverb drenched indie-pop gems, it seemed to take an age – a perception ultimately exacerbated by a seemingly interminable gestation period in the studio – before Alvvays’ follow up record finally saw the light of day. In fact, Antisocialites is just a single day old on the evening of the Toronto quintet’s return to Bristol and their final UK performance before heading across the channel into mainland Europe.
However, Alvvays fans can feel vindicated after the lengthy wait; the new record is a buoyant collection of effortlessly tuneful songs, maintaining their debut’s easy ear for melody while turning the ratchet towards a more pop-punk terrain. This fact is illustrated in the evening’s opener ‘Saved by a Waif’ – the new moniker for established live favourite ‘New Haircut’. Though a relentlessly catchy, momentum shifting blast of guitar pop, guitarist Alec O’Hanley’s usually intoxicating touches of vibrato sink without much of a trace and the opening moments feel a little overwhelming considering the stark anticipation of tonight’s sold out show.
‘Following track ‘Adult Diversion’ – arguably the band’s outstanding tune and the quintessential example of Alvvays’ jangly surf guitars – is similarly hamstrung by a slight flatness of sound and it’s only after subsequent audience demands for “more reverb!” that they click into top gear. Recent single ‘In Undertow’ sounds much fuller in stature, the song’s end-of-relationship laments delightfully engulfed within its swampy soundscapes. ‘Plimsoll Punks’ is a snappy, energetic surge of punk-lite while the charming ‘Lollipop (Ode to Jim)’ gives its titular nod to The Jesus & Mary Chain’s Jim Reid and, all at once, manages to occupy a sonic avenue somewhere between 60s girl group, cheesy commercial pop and C86 throwback.
Though Antisocialites is slightly more upbeat collection of songs in comparison to Alvvays, there are certainly some pensive moments to provide balance. The wistful ‘Dreams Tonight’ circles with a benign pleasure while ‘Not My Baby’ is infused with a lovelorn tinge of Motown and features some sweet call-and-response vocal sparring between Rankin and keyboardist Kerri MacLellan.
In step with their easily accessible and warm tunes, there is something very likeable about Alvvays. Rankin is gregarious throughout and intermittently asks after the welfare of an audience member who appears to be struggling near the front of the stage. When someone in the crowd tries to address MacLellan, Rankin plays protector for her obviously shy bandmate by amiably warning “Don’t address Kerri onstage” and O’Hanley amusingly references a Sean Spicer gaff by deliberately misnaming the Canadian Prime Minister as “Joe Trudeau.”
The constant calls for “More reverb!” effectively become a running joke from the audience but by the time we get to ‘The Agency Group’, Alvvays have truly mastered their live sound. The crunchy reverbs of the song’s guitar break soar piercingly around the room and the sparse arrangement allow one to become fully cognizant of Rankin’s unique, slightly deadpan vocal talents. Though on this evidence the band’s newer songs have made quick inroads into becoming near future favourites, the older songs perhaps provide the evening’s most joyous moments.
The seductive gallop of ‘Atop a Cake’ provides a breathtaking moment of anticipation and mass audience boogieing as it launches into its final chorus and in ‘Archie, Marry Me’ – with its irresistible “Hey, hey” chorus refrain – the band will be extremely hard pressed to write a better sing-along track. Meanwhile, the shimmering ‘Next of Kin’ – Rankin’s deceptively tragic tale of a drowned lover – induces a spirited mass clap-along.
Alvvays have presided over a highly salubrious Saturday evening atmosphere. There’s even time, during the encore, for the presentation of a birthday cake for drummer Sheridan Riley and there’s a pleasing and slightly obscure cover of Edinburgh indie group Motorcycle Boy’s ‘Trying to be Kind’. Alvvays depart from the stage, ferry-bound for France and growing into a World class indie-pop band.