They’re growing on me like a rash, this lot… Having walked in part-way through Alvvays’ Real Estate support slot at the Empire last October (gig 929) and thoroughly enjoyed what on the face of it seemed to be some buoyant, wide-eyed C86 influenced jangle pop, I picked up their eponymous debut CD and found something else. Something inexplicable, intangible and ever so slightly out of reach, but nevertheless a real extra depth to the material, layers of melancholy and emotiveness that rewarded repeated listens. “Alvvays” made it into my Top 5 albums of last year (behind some serious heavyweights like The Hold Steady, New Pornographers, Merchandise and War On Drugs) and if I were making that list now, who’s to say they wouldn’t be even higher…? Thus I pounced on tickets for their ultimately sold-out trip to “The Dirty Boat”, always a favourite venue.
I wasn’t alone for this one; riding shotgun was recent gig buddy Andy Fenton; we passed an entertaining drive down comparing past gig experiences, parking up in the final spot and going aboard the venue at 7.30. My first visit since the Thekla’s recent renovation, and they’ve spruced up the old vessel nicely, improving the eyeline from the bar, reflooring and repositioning the mixing desk, plus much-needed loo improvements! Already taking the stage as we headed to the bar were openers Moon King, a Toronto 4-piece featuring a madly tousle-haired male vocalist and a striking ginger female guitarist who also took lead vocals on a few tracks. A very promising spritely, frantic opener augured well for the set, more so when it was followed by a chugging Pixies-ish rocker, our crazy-haired friend already showing a nice line in strident, nasally atonal vocals, recalling Violent Femme’s Gordon Gano. “Crucified” featured the breathless wide-eyed innocence and wonder of (very!) early U2, and whilst some of their quieter material was a little fey and insubstantial on first listen, their more upbeat number showed some fine Veruca Salt/ Breeders quiet/loud moments and striking vocal interplay. “Roswell” was a careering punkish blast to end a great opening set from a highly promising band for 2015. Their “Secret Life” album, due out in April, already looks an essential buy…
Having had a watching brief near the mixing desk for Moon King, we moved to the front, stage right, for Alvvays, as the place filled up rapidly. Alvvays bounced onstage at dead on 8.30, to the accompaniment of a haunting Celtic fanfare, led by Breton-clad blonde vocalist Molly Rankin. After opener “Your Type”, a Primitives-like punky and spritely blast (prophetic, that…), Molly declared, “we’re on a boat! This is so cool! Hello boat people!” before the irresistibly melodic “Next Of Kin”, played beautifully and sounding utterly superb – evidently the refit included sound system investment too! Molly, still wittering on about the novelty of playing on a boat (“anyone ever played a show on a plane? Is that a safety hazard?”), was an effervescent focal point throughout, her voice accurately conveying the right mood of melancholy for “Your Agency”, love-lorn innocence for “Ones Who Love You”, and world-weary ennui for the marvellous, hooky “Archie, Marry Me”, an soaring early set highlight.
Whilst the mid-set dipped from the stratospherically high standards of the opening salvo (a discordant “Underneath Us” even slightly jarring), they roared back with a “Atop A Cake”, a C86-driven slice of cute bouncy jangle, a hauntingly yearning “Party Police”, and set closer “Adult Diversion”, a chugalong slice of prime indiepop to end a great little set.
Back on for the encore, and an unexpected treat in a cover of The Primitives’ “Out Of Reach”, nailing their influences to the mast somewhat (although for me this lot have much more substance than Tracey Tracey’s fizzy, fun but throwaway pop lot). A gushing “We’d really like to come back here! We’d like to take you all to [next gig] Antwerp with us!” from Molly underlined they’d had as much fun as we had, a new number finishing tonight’s proceedings.
Grabbed a quick chat at the Merch stand with an ebullient Moon King vocalist, who kindly wrote out a set-list for me, then got my set-list signed by the besieged Alvvays members at said stand before heading off. An early one, this, home by 10.30, but a great night out from two really promising bands. After this performance from Alvvays, it’s no surprise they’re already scheduled to headline the Empire in Autumn. If this is a rash, then I want to keep scratching it!