Live Review: Alvvays in Manchester

Alvvays are in the midst of a large European tour supporting their second album “Antisocialites”, released last summer to great critical success.

Their visit to Manchester somewhat seemed to be a red letter day – tickets had been sold out for weeks, and the warm and charming atmosphere of the Academy 2 fit like a glove with the kind of intimate yet sing-alongy tunes for which Alvvays are known for. Their music is certainly full of throwbacks to various indie scenes from the 80s, but this was hardly a night for nostalgia. Sure, there were a few people in the audience whose hair had already turned thin and grey, but at least half the audience was comprised by teenagers and people in their twenties, which speaks volumes about Alvvays’ capacity to bring different generations together.

Glasgow indie pop act Spinning Coin opened the gig with a brief, efficient set that showcased their knack for easy-going melodies and jangly guitars. Just like Alvvays, they’re obviously quite big on all the C86 stuff, although they’ve got a couple of tricks up their sleeve displayed by their messing around with unusual time signatures and drum patterns that take their music to a different level. It was just the way an opening set ought to be – short, not too flashy and fun, a fitting appetizer for what was to come.

Fronted by Molly Rankin, Alvvays band took the stage a few minutes after, opening their set with “Hey”, one of the many guitar bangers that comprise “Antisocialites”. Many indie guitar bands are known for their raucous and vehement live performances, but Alvvays certainly don’t fit into that group. They are all about the songs, and their live show does nothing but confirm that Rankin is a song-writing genius who doesn’t need to put in a fierce and wild performance to make her point come across. Her stage interaction was just like her songs – brief, playful and slightly awkward, yet brimming with a sort of soothing warmth that is hard not to find endearing.

The charm of their melodies translates particularly well to a live context, and they make sure to bring in pretty much every instrumental and vocal arrangement that you can also hear on the studio versions – keyboardist Kerri MacLellan provided solid backing vocals throughout the evening, while Rankin wasn’t afraid to let her emotions show while reaching the highest notes on songs like “Saved By A Waif” or “Dreams Tonite”. It was the latter which garnered one of the most enthusiastic receptions from the audience, confirming that even their slower songs form a special bond with the general public in a live setting. That being said, nothing came close to the abrupt applause that broke out when the first notes of the guitar riff that opens “Archie, Marry Me” were played. Even if “Antisocialites” is arguably their best album by a landslide, it is their debut that contains one of the most beloved indie songs of our generation.

The Canadians’ set included almost every song off “Antisocialites”, including highlights like the dream-pop anthem “In Undertow”, the irresistible twee fun of “Lollipop (Ode to Jim”) and the droning melancholy of “Forget About Life”, which found Rankin without her guitar for the first and last time in the whole evening. After closing the main set with “Party Police”, one of the many love-sick guitar pleads of their debut, Alvvays returned to the stage to perform a well-received Elastica cover (big kudos to them for honouring one of the most underrated British bands from the 90s) and “Next of Kin”, with which they waved goodbye after completing what was one of the most exciting concerts of the season. It was a gentle reminder that a pop show can come close to perfection without bright lights and bombast. The songs are what will remain in the end, and Alvvays have got a handful of them.

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