Alvvays bring the smiles

After a three-year absence, Molly Rankin has returned to Waterloo with a new band, a new album and a new fan base.

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

After a three-year absence, Molly Rankin has returned to Waterloo with a new band, a new album and a new fan base.

Toronto-based band Alvvays formed in 2012 by Rankin, friend Kerri MacLennan and longtime contributors Alec O’Hanley, Brian Murphy and Phil MacIsaac.

Despite being based in Toronto, the members first met in the Maritimes. Rankin said that choosing Toronto over other cities was an easy choice.

“Toronto’s pretty central and our French is crap,” she said.

The band broke into the scene earlier this year with their self-titled debut album, an irresistible collection of hook-driven jangle-pop tunes that are sure to be on your next summer playlist. With such a strong debut came a quickly expanding fan base — it’s no wonder the band went to number one on the college charts earlier this year.

“If literate kids are listening to you, you can’t really ask for much more,” O’Hanley said.

Critics have labeled Alvvays’ sound with a multitude of genres, but the band is confident in where they stand in the music world.

“We think it’s pretty unimpeachable pop,” O’Hanley said.

“It’s this syrupy exterior — and a lot of people just see that — but if you spend a couple IQ points on diving in there, there’s more to be had.”

Opening their set at Starlight Social Club in uptown Waterloo with the crowd-pleaser “Atop a Cake,” fans stripped away their denim jackets and quickly rushed the stage. The energy was sustained with a punchier rendition of “Ones Who Love You” and fan-favourite “Adult Diversion,” a song that beckons for the perfect summer afternoon.

From there, the pace slowed for “The Agency Group,” a swooning song perfectly fit for the intimate setting.

“That’s my favourite song, it sounds the best,” Rankin said.

The way the songs translated from the album to the stage was seamless. Not only are they sonically accurate, but the band’s personality shined throughout the performance.

The laissez-faire attitude and the organically awkward on-stage chemistry between Rankin and O’Hanley made for the perfect backdrop to their set.

The band kept the audience guessing what would be next with a handful of B-sides and a cover. A track that stood out was “Underneath Us,” a song soaked in distortion and reverb, with synth and a droning beat that hypnotized. Over such a weighted backing, Rankin repeated the hook with a certain lethargy that entranced the audience.

Photo by Will Huang
Photo by Will Huang

The change in tone exemplified the band’s breadth and ambition to explore various sounds.

“We try not to shoehorn ourselves into anything — we like to be eclectic pop, pop that you can do anything you want with,” O’Hanley said.

As the show grew to a close, Alvvays ended off the night with their hit “Archie, Marry Me” — an unconventional love story of crime, akin to Bonnie and Clyde. The energy of the crowd reached new heights as the first “hey heys” were sung and didn’t cease until the final strum.

It was smiles all around for the fans and band alike.

“Any time you can see a lot of people and not individuals, it’s amazing. You know you’re going to have a good show,” Rankin said.

Alvvays’ performance came at the perfect time, as Waterloo was in desperate need of one last hit of summer.

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