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Concert review: Alvvays at Mac Hall 

By Ansharah Shakil, March 29 2023

Returning from a five-year hiatus, Toronto-based indie-pop band Alvvays (pronounced “always”) has continued to redefine the limits of indie pop with the 2022 release of their critically acclaimed album Blue Rev. Having first captured the hearts of listeners with 2014’s “Archie, Marry Me,” their unique sound continued to charm their cult following when they performed for a packed crowd in Mac Hall on March 11. 

Hours before the beginning of the concert, a long line of students stretched out waiting to be admitted, sitting on the floor and eating takeout. But before Alvvays, Vancouver-based band Big Rig accomplished the delicate and tricky act of being an opener for a crowd of people who have mostly never heard of you. Lead singer Jen Twynne Payne formed a connection with the crowd through her confessions of missing Alberta whenever she watched the TV show The Last of Us and references to The Bachelorette. The crowd let out audible disappointment when Big Rig announced their last song, and it’s easy to see why Big Rig opened for Alvvays. The two bands aren’t identical, but share the same clever lyrics and dreamy, melancholy tendencies. 

Alvvays lead singer, Molly Rankin, didn’t spend too much time chatting to the audience. When she did speak, dedicating a song to her mother for being in a crowd of university students, it stood out starkly. Her bandmates were similarly laid-back and relaxed. Dressed in complementary colours of blue and orange or both, the band looked like a unit that belonged together, often shining under blue lighting that complimented their clothing and their 2022 album title. They looked as real as any of the casually but carefully dressed students who watched them with rapture. 

Alvvays started the night off with the painfully relatable “Pharmacist.” The perfect transition from the resigned hurt of Rankin singing “It’s alright / I know I never crossed your mind,” and O’Hanley’s gut-wrenching guitar solo at the end of “Pharmacist,” was provided by the lively and triumphant “After the Earthquake.” Halfway through the setlist, Rankin kneeled down on the stage and sang “Very Online Guy” to the ground, her voice travelling through the crowd like a game of telephone. 

The following instrumental of the opening of “Not My Baby” brought to life an inexplicable sentimentality with its wistful guitar and the sound of a revving engine. Those first thirty seconds of “Not My Baby” are as fresh and clean as spring wind, and Rankin’s vocals transform the song entirely. Live, Rankin sang, “I don’t care,” with a slight tilt to her voice as though it were a question. But there was stubbornness to the statement, like she was lifting up her chin and declaring proudly that she had no qualms about going to “do whatever I want.”

After “Not My Baby” came “Tom Verlaine,” the true stand-out from Blue Rev to me. The bittersweet and devastatingly simple “Tom Verlaine” was enchanting to watch live, enhanced by backdrops of beautiful flowers and clear skies as carefully chosen as the song’s exquisite imagery. But there’s nothing like what followed: the leaping and lovestruck chorus of “Archie, Marry Me,” the song nearly everyone in the crowd knew all the lyrics to. 

There’s something special about “Archie, Marry Me” and the few songs from the band’s first album, which was, after all, recorded in Calgary. “Adult Diversion” from the first album, played at the beginning of the setlist, remains a fan favourite. With lyrics like “If I should fall, act as though it never happened / I will retreat and sit inside so very quietly,” and “I will retreat and then go back to university,” it’s no wonder Alvvays appeals to introverts and university students. One of the most incredible moments of the night was listening to “Easy on Your Own?” sung in front of a crowd of students. 

“I dropped out / college education’s a dull knife,” Rankin sang, the guitar jubilantly kicking in halfway through her opening lyric. 

“Easy on Your Own?” was as powerful as the performance of the fast-paced, sparklingly sardonic “Pomerian Spinster,” which contains some of the album’s best lyrics with “Once shy, twice burned” and “Don’t wanna belong, I’m not nodding along.” Rankin was unapologetically herself throughout the concert and the crowd adored it, screaming for a happily fulfilled encore and “Molly, we love you!”

Live, the band was incredibly authentic, soothing and stinging at alternate moments. To quote from fan favourite “Dreams Tonite,” the runtime of their setlist was “magic hour.” It was a night of dreamy, starry-eyed music that brought something new to the world of indie pop. 

The current Alvvays tour extends till September, though they will only come to Canada again in Toronto, co-headlining with Alex G. I will despair for hours about Alex G not joining them on the half of their tour which included a stop in Calgary, but was glad to see them on a university stage, performing their hearts out and doing Blue Rev justice.

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