I was always going to catch Alvvays on this tour (pardon the pun) – the first time this band of Nova Scotia dreamers, with innocent wide-eyed guitars and dark, unspoken melancholy in their hearts in equal measure, had graced our shores for 2 years, this time back to push a new album in the forthcoming “Antisocialites” – but the question turned out to be, where? A September date at “The Dirty Boat”, Bristol’s Thekla, seemed favourite, and I duly sourced a ticket for that one, only for Rach to arrange her first sea swim for that weekend, prompting a potential family weekend away. Oxford’s date clashed with a previously arranged gig elsewhere (Psychedelic Furs, next week!), so it was down to Southampton, to a new venue for me in The Talking Heads, which was apparently my friend Rich Carter’s Uni boozer of choice!
A solo jaunt for me too, this, so I motored purposefully down the A34, finding the venue easily and a street parking spot eventually, after a couple of tours of the locale. Into a small, compact and bijou, and wider than long venue, already well attended, and greeted by Devo’s “Freedom Of Choice” over the PA. Had worse welcomes! I soon came to wish they’d left that on, as support Alaskalaska, on prompt at 8.15, really weren’t much cop; a cumbersome 6 piece, featuring at least 2 totally superfluous members in their keyboardist and saxophonist, their songs generally eased in on a smooth, pastoral (and occasionally darker, more morose) Sundays-like vibe, before unfortunately developing into more cluttered and over-fussy beasts, recalling poor 80’s wine bar funk at times, but generally overcomplicated by rude, blaring sax or dissonant sheet synth. If their songs were 30 seconds long each (!) I might have actually liked them; instead they just irritated and bored me. Sorry, but Alaskalaska just left me coldcold…
Alvvays then set up onstage and I wandered down the crowded front, stage right, in anticipation of a quick turnaround, whilst the PA then played the Razorcuts’ totally appropriate C86 classic “Sorry To Embarrass You” (31 years old! Older than most of tonight’s crowd, I’d wager…). Someone’s evidently been doing their homework…! 10 minutes late, however, bagpipe music and an “Alvvays” flag projected onto the backdrop heralded the band’s entrance at 9.25, straight into hard-edged new opener “Saved By Waif”, before Molly remarked, “how’s it going?” and, “shit! Is that French?” to some clever-dick heckler, before “Adult Diversion”’s joyous Rickenbacker jangle got the sell-out young crowd bouncing.
A shame that this tour preceded the release of “Antisocialites”, rather than the other way around, as the set was replete with new numbers, and it really felt that each new number was definitely going to be my new favourite new Alvvays number… until the next one! Whether it be the herky-jerky new waveisms of “Plimsoul Punks”, the brash, brittle Buzzcocks-like “Your Type” or the equally snappy, punky bounce of “Lollipop”, or Kerry’s cinematic keyboards embellishing the plaintive yet really rather lovely harmonies of “Not My Baby” (which in all honesty will likely be my actual new favourite new Alvvays number!), every new song was a winner, a subtle yet distinct addition and extension to the Alvvays sonic template.
The oldies weren’t bad either! And, true to form, Alvvays did them justice with an upbeat, blissful and inclusive performance. Vivacious vocalist Molly was in good quipping form, announcing, “we enjoy being in the UK; you’ve got great rest-stop food… and lots of sheep!” and telling a story about splitting her “pants” at Glasgow airport while backfilling a keyboard-prompted technical break. The breezy “Atop A Cake” got me bopping furiously down the front, and the undulating riff of “Next Of Kin” was a set highlight, although topped by a brilliant “Marry Me Archie”, a rousing and lusty singalong bouncing off the venue’s low ceiling. The pleading melancholy of “Party Police” ended a splendid set, before a rapid-fire encore run-through of The Motorcycle Boy’s obscure 80’s pop number “Trying To Be Kind” (which I mistook for The Darling Buds!) and their own, poignant “The Agency Group” closed proceedings.
I got my Kerry-provided set-list signed by new drummer Sheridan during a chat about The Motorcycle Boy and The Shop Assistants, before hitting the road for a midnight home-time. In fine form and with some excellent new material, this lot, so I was always going to catch Alvvays… and always will!