Alvvays Halifax Jazz Festival, Halifax NS, July 11

Alvvays Halifax Jazz Festival, Halifax NS, July 11
Photo: Richard Lann
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The Halifax Jazz Festival's outdoor waterfront venue may be the biggest stage Alvvays have played in Halifax since breaking out with their self-titled debut four years ago, but as former East coasters, it still felt like familiar turf.
 
"We used to wreak havoc on these streets," said vocalist Molly Rankin, noting that both she and keyboardist Kerri MacLellan went to university in the city. "Thankfully for you guys, we're now grandmas in Toronto."
 
With all due respect to grandmas, I suspect most of them don't have the guitar-jangle chops or bouncy indie rock energy that Alvvays bring to the table. Wednesday night's show was as accomplished a set as I've seen from the band, echoing the greater sense of poise and songwriting confidence that last year's Antisocialites album represented over the band's debut.
 
On the surface, Alvvays share a great deal in common with their headliner Wednesday night, the War on Drugs: their material similarly feels sepia-toned, all woozy and nostalgic. But under that coating, there's much more of a sense of pop jitteriness, its use of starts and stops to grab the ear and demand its attention. The performance of a song like "Saved by a Waif," for example, gains its power in the way that guitarist Alec O'Hanley can, in one moment, twist his tone into a squall of noise and then, right on cue from drummer Sheridan Riley, slam it into a perfect-sounding chord.
 
Or then there's the jubilant "Archie, Marry Me" — as perfect a pop song as anyone's written this decade, and one where it's the drum builds and big pauses that, as much as Rankin's buoyant vocal melody, turn it into something transcendent. Though the set had its quiet moments too (particularly a lovely "Forget About Life"), it was the undeniable energy of songs like "Archie," "In Undertow" and a set-ending "Next of Kin" that left the strongest impression, earning appreciative roars of approval from the capacity crowd on the Halifax waterfront.