Alvvays @ Brudenell Social Club: Concert Review

This is a writing sample from Scripted writer Oliver Mangham

What makes for a good live band? How does a polished studio sound translate well to the acoustics of a dingy men's working club? These were questions I pondered in between songs at the recent gig for Alvvays, the tragically cute indie-pop quintet from Toronto. Fortunately, any concerns about a poor transition were dashed early on, with the band proving to be a surprisingly formidable presence in their short and sweet performance at the Brudenell Social Club.

Opening act Moon-King were a perfectly serviceable dream-pop ensemble. They delivered a solid set but failed to leave any memorable impression. Perhaps it's just me, but I feel as if the window of opportunity for shoegaze bands and other MBV acolytes is slowly narrowing. When you've heard the umpteenth shimmering guitar melody, accompanied by wispy vocals, the artists start to blend into one. Sweeping statements aside, Moon-King served the purpose of any small opening act, producing an agreeable ambiance as the crowd milled in and tentatively sipped their first drinks. (The lead singer also had an unintentionally terrific Billy Corgan impression.)

From the second they plugged in their equipment, headliners Alvvays played like consummate musicians, belying their scruffy teenage appearance. Each one of their songs was crafted meticulously and executed without a hitch, to the extent that their performance seemed like a carefully choreographed dance more than anything else. But they achieved this formalistic precision while still retaining the sense — or at least the illusion — of improvisation required to make any gig feel urgent. Although every band member proved their worth, it was the spindly interplay between Brian Murphy and Alec O'Hanley that stood out, their two guitars circling one another like courting snakes.

But it was the fragile vocals of lead singer Molly Rankin that gave Alvvays the warmth needed to counterbalance their methodical playing style. For every time her voice cracked in falsetto, like on moving ballad "Party Police", I felt like I was watching something akin to therapy. Given the live space to perform, her lyrics also revealed a greater depth and wisdom than I had noticed on their record. When Rankin wistfully sang that she's "An outcast of modern society / Suffering from a case of sobriety" on "The Agency", the lines became something more than cute, surface-level wordplay. Her guileless stage presence also served her well when she interacted with the audience. (At one point, she cheekily asked us if it was "kosher in Leeds" to wear a Morrissey t-shirt.)

Having only released one album, the band was able to run through their entire repertoire in under an hour, with enough space for a couple of unexpected additions. Their two covers – of Deerhunter's "Nosebleed" and The Primitives' "Out of Reach" – provided an interesting, if not entirely surprising, glimpse into their alt-pop influences. The group then closed out their encore with a preview of new material, playing "Haircut" from the upcoming sophomore release. The song, which relied on more web-like melodies and heavier percussion, shows a promising evolution in their sound.

It was an almost stupidly satisfying experience. Alvvays' particular brand of pure pop, blasted through a lo-fi filter, made for an electrifying performance. When Rankin openly mused "We were here only a year ago, opening for Real Estate...", a sense of disbelief lingered in her voice. But for anyone in that audience, their sudden rise in the ranks shouldn't come as any surprise at all.

Written by:

Oliver Mangham
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Based in the UK, Oliver is a multi-faceted writer with a love of language and a passion for creating SEO-optimised content that connects clients to their target audiences. A former copywriter and creative lead at Publicis and Ogilvy & Mather, he’s been spending the last few years focusing on helping smaller businesses grow their online presence. His primary interests are the entertainment industry, travel, and the arts. When he’s not writing, Oliver spends his nights protecting Gotham from supervillains under his crime-fighting alter ego. (He’s said too much.)
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