Alvvays at The Fillmore, by Patric Carver

Alvvays (photo: Patric Carver)

Just about a year and a half ago, Alvvays was playing a dinnertime set on the Mission Stage at Phono del Sol. Last Tuesday, they played a delectable show to a sold-out crowd at the legendary Fillmore.   

Ushered in by the same Canadian winds that carried Alvvays from Toronto to the Bay Area, opening band Nap Eyes of Nova Scotia did a fine job of warming the crowd up, but I wish they had taken it further. Lead vocalist Nigel Chapman channeled Lou Reed for their first song, a performance that held the promise of a stellar set. However, this was a promise not fully kept. The musicality of all the players could not be denied – interesting moments on guitar, spots of very entertaining low-end play, wistful work on the drums. There were beautiful moments that reminded me of the Crash Test Dummies, a band I’ve always admired for their ability to braid Rock and Folk influences.  Those moments just didn’t sustain themselves long enough to go the distance. The whole thing felt a little anemic. Nap Eyes is supposedly an extension of Chapman’s solo project, The Mighty Northumberland, but it still sounded very fragmented – a collection of individuals not yet working as one. Again, it was a fine warm up, but it didn’t really rock.

Alvvays was another story. They came charging out with Saved by a Waif from their new album, Antisocialites. Anti is not nearly as punchy an album as their debut self-titled record, but it really came alive on stage. Saved, along with other tracks from Anti, was absolutely ripping, commanding. Another highlight from Anti was In Undertow. The sound was permeating, pushing, and strong. It wasn’t a departure from their original sound, but perhaps another side of it.

There was still plenty the softer side of Alvvays to go around. Songs from their first album were peppered through the night with their much more jangly guitars that push their Shoegaze base into a more swinging sound – the type of music you’d play at the beach if you were really into music and only somewhat into the beach. Lead vocalist Molly Rankin really showed how dynamic her range is, bouncing from the sun-shiny brightness of some of the more bombastic songs to the shout-whisper used on dreamier tunes. Rankin’s voice sounds like something conjured up in a memory, and I mean that in the best way. The way that we perfect the moments we relive in our minds is duplicated by Rankin’s seamless singing. It’s not as foreign to the everyday as Opera singers are, but there’s something wonderfully inhuman about it.

The crown jewel of the night, Marry Me, Archie, was a great example of Rankin’s voice edging on the ethereal. Carrying the crowd like a rock n’ roll lullaby, Archie was simply captivating. The crowd had been generally subdued up until that point, but Archie had the floor thumping in time with their jumps and sways, the bulk of audience members singing along.

It was a sweet moment, and that’s what Alvvays is perhaps best at bottling – the sweet moments. Regardless of lyrical content, their work seems to capture the better side of life and set it to song.

They’re a band you can’t help but love, and every heart at the Fillmore fell for them that night.