Alvvays don't rely on flashy gimmicks or charismatic showmanship — rather, they live and die by the strength of their songwriting. Last night's (December 12) gig at the Mod Club was the first of five consecutive sold-out hometown shows, and while they could have clearly played a much bigger room, the intimate confines of the club gave fans an up-close glimpse of their material without the need for grandiose rock spectacle.
Prior to the headliners, Montreal six-piece Napster Vertigo opened the night with a smooth, swaggering set that drew on a wide cross-section of '70s rock: whimsical artiness à la Jonathan Richman, jazzy yacht rock, groovy soul and sprawling psychedelia. The band featured Basia Bulat on keys and Wintersleep's Loel Campbell on drums, but it was cheeky frontman Andrew Woods who stole the show with his easygoing confidence and quirky between-song storytelling. Bizarrely, all of the banter had been pre-written word-for-word, since a pre-recorded, faux-live version of the entire set was available immediately after it was over.
When the lights went down for the headliners, a cinematic overture played over the P.A. while a scratchy VHS-quality video featuring Alvvays' band name was projected onto the stage. This dramatic entrance proved to be a red herring rather than a sign of things to come, since Alvvays tore into a peppy string of tunes that closely recreated the hook-filled fuzz-pop tunes from this year's excellent Antisocialites. Frontwoman Molly Rankin's deadpan vocals were the perfect counterpoint to Alec O'Hanley's jangling guitar lines, while keyboardist Kerri MacLellan's soft-focus synths added a sense of wistfulness to new album standouts "In Undertow" and "Dreams Tonite."
Throughout the entire performance, staticky abstract videos were projected onto the stage, making it look a bit like Alvvays were performing in the dim glow of a busted TV set. The colourful images were never distracting, and they added just enough visual interest to make up for the fact that none of the musicians have a particularly commanding stage presence. That being said, Rankin was charming between songs as she quipped about making a fool of herself on a TTC streetcar and hunting for bargains at a nearby Metro supermarket.
The energetic high point of the set was back catalogue fave "Archie, Marry Me," the excitement of which was enough to inspire one concertgoer to climb up onto her companion's shoulders and flash the stage, which added a sense of Woodstock-style free-spiritedness to a night that was otherwise fairly low-key.
Still, even if both the band and the crowd were relatively mellow, the chance to see Alvvays offer up note-perfect renditions of their tunes in an intimate setting is always a treat.