Alvvays Olympic Community Hall, Halifax NS, October 24
Published Oct 25, 2015"We're from Cape Breton and Prince Edward Island!"
I'd wager a healthy guess that Molly Rankin hasn't always been that specific in introducing the band's points of origin as she and the other members of Alvvays have been whisked around the globe this past year or so following the breakthrough success of their self-titled debut album. But in the Maritimes, "Where ya from?" demands a greater amount of detail — so much so that I was surprised specific hometowns weren't mentioned.
Alvvays fit a classic East coast narrative: the need to leave and succeed before coming back home again. Whether it's young workers making their way to Fort McMurray, Alberta or bands making their way to Toronto, we're used to this story by now. It's one that sometimes invites scorn or judgment, but mostly these days I find it's greeted with understanding. After all, when the core of your band is a gifted guitarist from a well-known pop-rock band (former Two Hours Traffic guitarist Alec O'Hanley) and a daughter of the region's most famous folk family (Rankin, the daughter of the late John Morris Rankin of the Rankin Family), you can see the appeal in packing up and starting a script anew.
Aside from a short set at Dalhousie University's DalFest in September 2014, this was Alvvays' first time back in Halifax since becoming a minor global sensation, and they were greeted almost as conquering local heroes. They attracted one of the largest, most enthusiastic crowds of the entire Halifax Pop Explosion, eager to hear songs like "Atop a Cake" and "Next of Kin" now that they've turned into worldwide favourites. The band's jangle- and reverb-heavy sound can be overwhelming, so much so that, for the first third of the set, the mix didn't seem to quite know what to make of it. But by the time the band settled into the quieter "Agency Group," the ideal, swoony balance seemed to be struck.
As a band with only one nine-track album to its name, Alvvays need to flesh out a headlining set, so Halifax was treated to B-side "Underneath Us," as well as the three new songs the band has been playing for the past several months: "Your Type" (sadly, not a Carly Rae Jepsen cover), "New Haircut" and "Hey," the last of which offered a welcome change of tone with its garage-rock feel. The band also performed two covers: a note-perfect take on "Lloyd, I'm Ready to Be Heartbroken" by Camera Obscura ("a band we've been thinking about a lot lately," said Rankin, in reference to the sad passing of keyboardist Carey Lander to cancer) and, in the encore, an incredibly catchy version of the Hummingbirds' "Alimony."
Though not performed back-to-back (to start the encore, Rankin performed album-closer "Red Planet" solo), "Alimony" made for a nice thematic pairing with "Archie, Marry Me," which closed the main set and felt like the peak of the entire Halifax Pop Explosion this year. You felt the anticipation build through O'Hanley's opening guitar riff and the room just exploded when the drums kicked in following Rankin's opening salvo of "You've expressed explicitly…" The crowd in front of the stage spent the entire song jumping up and down with glee — one final moment of release to help wind down another year of pop explosions.