Alvvays Were Meticulous in Their Pursuit of Perfection in Vancouver

Commodore Ballroom, March 17

Photo: Chris Gee

BY Alex HudsonPublished Mar 18, 2023

Judging by the dense shoegaze soundscapes of last year's Blue Rev, it would be fair to assume that Alvvays would be hard-pressed to recreate their studio arrangements on stage. And that would be fine — plenty of great bands before them have used their albums as only a rough guide for what live performances sound like.

But not Alvvays. It's hard to remember a band that does a better job of perfectly recreating their studio recordings live, right down the smallest details. Now having passed through many months of their Blue Rev tour — they've been playing these songs since well before the album dropped — they've got it down to a science, making this tour-closing stop in Vancouver was particularly impeccable.

Opening the night were Big Rig, the rootsy new project led by Jen Twynn Payne. Unlike the headliners, the openers diverged from the self-described "twangmo" of last year's eponymous debut, with a hard-hitting rhythm section that added extra rock muscle to Payne's surging indie pop tunes. Even the presence of Geoff Reith on banjo didn't make Big Rig sound like traditional country, as they often evoked the brawny bubblegum of Payne's work as the singer-drummer of the Courtneys.

And this was more than welcome: later in the night, Alvvays singer Molly Rankin revealed that she was wearing Courtneys socks, and was a long-time fan of Payne's. The band had sold out of shirts and hats at the merch table the night before, so they clearly made impression on their leg of touring with Alvvays.

Walking on stage to "The River Sings" by Enya, Alvvays tore into Blue Rev's fast and furious opener "Pharmacist," with guitarist Alec O'Hanley incredibly recreating the frenzied guitar solo perfectly, right down to the squeaks of feedback and seasick whammy bar dips. That whammy bar got a lot of mileage throughout the night, with O'Hanley and Rankin expertly borrowing My Blood Valentine's "glide strumming" technique for the wobbly waves of fuzz on "Belinda Says" and "In Undertow."

Adding to the bleary shoegaze aesthetic were the enveloping visuals, as the band played while washed out colours and nature scenes were projected onto the back and sides of the stage. It enhanced the dream-like mood for the echoing, jangly melancholy of "Not My Baby" and the bloopy synthpop of "Very Online Guy," the latter of which had Rankin crouched at the base of her mic stand, adding weirdo effects to her voice on the fly.

But while the songs were noisy and hazy, Rankin's voice was crystal clear and note-perfect; whether hitting all of the acrobatic swoops of "Easy on Your Own?" or absolutely nailing the "Take on Me"-style high note at the end of "Velveteen," her singing is the highlight of the band's tireless pursuit of on-stage perfection. She even added a little extra vinegar to surf-y jangle of "Adult Diversion," punctuating the crescendo with a shout in a rare moment when it felt like the band went ever so slightly off-script.

Rankin paused briefly to make fun of St. Patrick's Day, which she called "frat boy Christmas," and to thank each of their crew members by name — but mostly, the five-piece were all business, blazing through a lengthy setlist spanning all of their albums, eventually wrapping up with the climactic power ballad "Lottery Noises."

As the band filed off stage, Rankin paused a little longer to wave at the packed Commodore Ballroom, basking in the glow for a few extra moments before wrapping up the show and the tour — before indie rock's most meticulous live band inevitably return to the road for even more dates later this year.

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