What the Toronto-based band lacked in theatrics, they more than made up for in stellar songwriting
ALVVAYS with NAPSTER VERTIGO at Mod Club, Tuesday, December 12. Rating: NNNN
As popular as they are effortlessly poppy, Alvvays could have played one or two nights in a bigger venue but opted for the relative intimacy of Mod Club for five sold-out holiday hometown shows.
Turns out the band’s connections to Mod Club are plentiful: it’s where they found their new drummer Sheridan Riley (she was playing with Chris Cohen when he opened for Andy Shauf there last year) they snagged their front-of-house sound and lighting people from there, too, over the course of various shows. And it’s in their hood: singer/songwriter Molly Rankin told the opening night crowd they may see her scouring the aisles at the Metro across the street.
Pan-Canadian yacht rockers Napster Vertigo started the night off on a celebratory, light-hearted note. The Montreal band, led by Andrew Woods, pulled the imaginative prank of pre-recording a live set to sell (pwyc) at the merch table as if it was the night’s gig. Other members included Wintersleep’s Loel Campbell and Basia Bulat, who’s made a habit of backup vocal cameos lately (she recently appeared onstage with U.S. Girls).
After what felt like a long break, Alvvays emerged in front of a flickering projection of their name. Swirling visuals of various colours and patterns appeared throughout their set, matching the varying moods of the songs and somewhat obscuring the band.
Alvvays won notoriety with their critically acclaimed Polaris-shortlisted self-titled debut in 2014 and has performed the small miracle of transcending it with this year’s more sonically adventurous sophomore effort, Antisocialites.
The band’s new lineup ballsily dealt out Adult Diversion – arguably the best song off of Alvvays – second in the set, while others, such as the dreary/ecstatic slow jam Ones Who Love You, Party Police, Atop A Cake and Next Of Kin were sprinkled amidst songs from the new album. Gone was the sense that the first record might have felt like a tired noose around the band’s neck. Instead, each of the older songs sounded as though the band was greeting a resilient and phenomenal old friend.
Their hit single Archie, Marry Me got the biggest response – a woman in the middle of the crowd flashed the band – but Dreams Tonite, off Antisocialites, more than stood up right after. Alvvays’s lyrics have always contained dark humour, but they bury that sentiment under a dreamy haze that’s not so prevalent on their new album.
Quick, danceable songs like Lollipop (Ode To Jim) and Your Type transferred the lyrical acerbity to the music. That said, the band can still take you inward, as they did on softer, more yearning songs like Not My Baby, during which Rankin held her hand over her heart, and plaintive urban lament Forget About Life, where you could hear the cross section of Atlantic folk influences within a wall of static noise and keys.
Despite their musical expressiveness, the band members came off as shy. They seemingly ignored the topless woman and Rankin addressed the crowd only twice. In one brief bit of banter she recalled how she said “Oh no,” aloud on a crammed streetcar and everyone on it probably thought she was bananas. “I am bananas,” she added.
But what they lacked in theatrics and banter, Alvvays more than made up for in stellar songwriting. Rankin’s voice soared over the crowd, propelled by a band that sounded tighter than ever. Toronto’s in for a treat the next four nights.
Alvvays’s Mod Club residency continues through December 16. See listing.
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