Alvvays made their NZ debut last night at Auckland’s Powerstation with help from Hatchie. The 13th Floor’s Robin Kearns and Ryo Nishikawa were on the scene…
Having had a number of visits to the part of Cape Breton Island where lead singer and songwriter Molly Rankin hails from, I’m eagerly anticipating Alvvays’ NZ debut tonight. An eagerness fueled also by a recent deep dive into their three-album catalogue…. full-on songs laced through with deliciously intriguing lyrics and the melodic vocal flights that lead singer/songwriter Molly Rankin offers. But first its Hatchie..
Hatchie (Harriette Pilbeam) from across the Tasman opens. Six songs. A loosely strummed guitar with drum machine and loops. Former member of Brisbane band the Go Violets and current bassist in Babaganoüj. A striking figure alone on stage.
Tracks off her EP and two albums get an airing. Style hovers somewhere between lo-fi shoegaze and dream pop. Says she wrote to Alvvays boldly asking to play with them. And it was a yes. A bouncing across vocal registers offers a hint of The Cranberries, maybe Mazzie Star. Many in the crowd know her songs well. Obsession resonates.
Alvvays open with Pharmacist. If the song-title seems unorthodox, so is their sound. Ethereal yet bold, crashing and full.
Formed in 2011 on Prince Edward Island, now based in in Toronto, the band’s name is pronounced ‘always’, despite the double v. I read somewhere they discovered another band of the same name as well as there being a period product company called Always. So double V it became. Obscurity in name to counter accessibility and charm. Part of a genre of Canadian bands sitting outside the mainstream, and delivering with great novelty including in name (New Pornographers, Broken Social Scene).
Molly Rankin’s small stature belies her voice. As a child, she played the fiddle – following the path of her father, John Morris Rankin of the Rankin Family the Celtic Canadian band from Nova Scotia that had its heyday in the ‘90s.
Much of the set draws from Blue Rev, their latest album whose title references a sweet but punchy vodka-soaked alco-pop, a staple drink in bandmembers’ teenage years. The blue in the title is also perhaps, a hint of the loss and tragedy Rankin lives with: her father died in a car crash near their home in Cape Breton in 2000.
Album of the year says my son. It’s produced by Canadian Shawn Everett (who’s also produced The War on Drugs). There’s an expansiveness to their songs that is paradoxical because they’re brief. And a quirkiness. Grown perhaps from the strangeness of occurrences and relationships that get amplified in isolated rural communities such as that of Rankin’s beginnings on Cape Breton Island.
It’s clearly a tight band. Molly and Keri Lellan (keyboards) were high school friends and Alec O’Hanley (guitars) is her partner. They all stayed in a Toronto apartment while the album was developed.
A tight sound. Many songs last only a few brief minutes and a 22-song set is offered in compact delivery. Somewhere I read Molly citing Canadian author Alice Munro as an inspiration whose punchy short stories deliver knock-out punches to the reader. That opening song Pharmacist is a case in point. An encounter in an ordinary place with extraordinary implications. A banal place yields a break-up reminder. Delicate vocals as if wistful thoughts lead to a crashing fuzz of shoe-gazey distraction. A short story in song.
Throughout the show, resonances to the wideness of Canadian landscapes are complemented by sweeping projected vistas of ocean or Nova Scotia countryside. Visually, this is a feast. Then quick change to eye-jangly images as if random thoughts.
Any local allusions here in style? In fleeting moments, The Beths perhaps. Multiple waves of guitar sound. They reference Belinda Carlisle, Tom Verlaine. Nothing subtle here. Song titles. Powerful songs born of aversity. An album birthed amid Covid lockdowns, a flooded apartment and lost demos.
These resulting songs are a triumph. They pound with a confidence, underwritten by Abbey Blackwell’s bass and Sheridan Riley’s drums. Music with “a steely perfectionism… a brutally exacting eye” I read in The Guardian. Sudden and quirky key changes. Janglepop influences of Teenage Fanclub are evident. And The Hummingbirds (a cover of Alimony in the encore).
Biggest audience response is for Archie, Marry Me. One of those ear-wormy songs whose echo in the coming hours and days from hearing it again is entirely welcome. Like the entire suite of songs on offer, there is nothing to not like in this band who have travelled such a journey from the fiddling roots of their larger-than-life lead singer, guitarist and songwriter.
Sweet, loud and at times cacophonous. Utterly enjoyable.
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Ryo Nishikawa
- Alvvays & Hatchie – Powerstation: December 16, 202 - 17 December 2023
- Alex G & Molly Payton – Powerstation: December 13, 2023 - 13 December 2023
- The War On Drugs& Spoon – Spark Arena: December 2, 2023 - 3 December 2023