When it came time to film a new music video, the Nova Scotia/Toronto indie pop band Alvvays scheduled a shoot in Los Angeles, just before their debut show for the city at The Echo. One of the shots involved a stunt: lead singer Molly Rankin would jump and land on a mattress. Upon landing she messed up her neck and had to perform hopped up on muscle relaxants.
You couldn’t tell though. The show went swimmingly, and if she hadn’t told us about the incident in-between songs, we would never have known.
This was all part of the night’s delightful stage banter. When telling stories or just introducing song, Molly’s voice is animated and cartoonish, which fits the flavor of their starry eyed love songs. But when she’s singing, it’s all furrowed brows and deep immersion — a good portrayal of the way the music has a sad core with bright frills.
The challenge for a young band with early success like Alvvays is filling out that hour. They’ve got a great album with great songs, but they’re fast. Even if you played the whole record there’s probably going to be time for a little more. They filled the space with a cover of The Primitives’ “Out of Reach” and a couple of new songs that signal where the band is headed.
There was “Underneath Us,” currently a cassette B-side which was sung in a huskier tone and wrapped in heavy Kevin Shields-style shoe gaze. “Your Type” fits with their Primitives cover; it’s thrashy chords with the quick bite-sized thrills of back to basics pop punk. If you were to draw contemporary comparisons, the newer Alvvays songs sound more early Best Coast and less Real Estate. Up tempo and thick instead of spacious and echoing.
Not that there wasn’t plenty of reverb happening on that Friday night. Their more familiar back catalogue is an enveloping sound in concert, where all the instruments and Rankin’s voice form a blissful wall of sound. It’s not really loud, just dense, with chords and keys crammed up into a single layer. On the record it’s a wonder of Chad Vangaalen’s talent that he could carve out each element into their own space. On stage, Alvvays is a flash flood, everything at once.
The set list touched on most of their self-titled debut. “Archie, Marry Me” got a surprisingly mid-show slot. “Party Police” is their magical moment song, the apex of the show that you’ll remember. These are songs that had time to simmer and reflect, written in very particular circumstances of longing and boredom. The new stuff isn’t worse off, exactly, but it does feel like a different band when they play them. But it’s to their credit that the show felt quick. Even with an encore, it always felt like you were just getting riled up.
Justin Pansacola is a writer living in Los Angeles. At the University of California, Riverside he received his degree in Creative Writing, not English, although he has resigned to the fact that no one cares about the difference. You can follow him on Twitter @wordcore. On some nights he looks up at the moon and wonders if you’re looking at the same moon, too.