Winter Storms Were No Match for Alvvays' Heart-Melting Toronto Show History, December 15

With Slow Pulp
Winter Storms Were No Match for Alvvays' Heart-Melting Toronto Show   History, December 15
Photo: Chris Gee
By the time Slow Pulp finished their set and left the stage to make way for Alvvays, a warm familiarity had set over the crowd at History on Thursday night. Everyone was buzzing after the Chicago band's sweetly confessional sound — an apt precursor to the guarded jubilance of the night's headliner. The first of Alvvays' two-night stand Toronto was sold out, and, as voices whispered about whether Molly Rankin and co. would pull out any oldies from their debut, — "Archie, Marry Me" danced across the crowds' lips — a wet, slushy snow storm raged outside.

When the band walked on stage, the crowd's anticipation erupted into warm cheers as they welcomed the group who were celebrating not only the release of their beloved third studio album, Blue Rev, but also its landing on many year-end best-of lists — including topping Exclaim!'s own 50 Best Albums of 2022. The five-piece took no time settling in before slipping into two tracks off Blue Rev: "Pharmacist," the heartbreakingly optimistic song ringing with cloying realizations about the passage of time, and "After the Earthquake."  

The stage setup was far from frilly, featuring only a screen behind the group, onto which was projected a frenetic stream of glances and sensations that felt like peeping into a colourful film noir. Flickers of celluloid ran through the projection machine, driving up and down a country highway in summertime, soft, bright light and gentle movement playing over the band members. Rankin, on lead vocals and rhythm guitar (as well as some bass), was centre stage, with Kerri MacLellan on keyboard to Rankin's left, Alec O'Hanley on lead guitar to Rankin's right, and Sheridan Riley on drums and Abbey Blackwell on bass holding things down in the back. 

Rankin, clad in a simple blue-striped sweater, told the crowd to hang in there and get tents — the band had a long night planned for us. Her pale hair shimmered in the soft stage light, and her voice was simultaneously clarion and warm, as perfect live as it is on record, sounding in turn like Madonna or a sibyl vocalizing — staid and vulnerable, strident and tender.

Those wondering if the band would play any old favourites were not disappointed. Sprinkled amongst Blue Rev stunners like "Many Mirrors," "Very Online Guy," "Tom Verlaine," "Belinda Says" and "Bored in Bristol" were classics like "In Undertow," "Adult Diversion," "Not My Baby," "Dreams Tonite," and, of course, "Archie, Marry Me."

Regardless of whether the tracks were old or new, the crowd belted out the words to each of the 19 songs played. "I hear you," Rankin said before O'Hanley plucked the sharp-as-a-memory intro to "Not My Baby," and Rankin smiled wide as she sang, her voice heavy with feeling. During the track, those who came coupled pulled each other closer, clinging to each other as if braced against the sting of Rankin's words. 

Rankin was aglow the entire night. Sometimes when she spoke, a hint of her Atlantic Canadian accent gently tugged at her words. "This is the first time I'm drinking from this bottle," she said as she took a sip of water in between tracks. "It has a nipple," she said. "I'm like a 35-year-old baby." That's how she made so many in the room feel: weepy, nostalgic, bruised up with feeling, just like a big old baby. 

Her bandmates were pitch perfect alongside Rankin — O'Hanley's curly hair tumbling across his forehead as he played, MacLellan's eyes focused at the keys. It was impossible to overlook each of the members' impeccable performances that came together around Rankin as she gleamed, pulling wily smiles.

The band's mercurial performance was alive with compassion, invigorating like a hearth against the cold swirl just beyond the venue doors. The entire experience felt safe and gentle, and the crowd headbanged and danced well into the night, enveloped by Alvvays songs new and old and moved by their intuitive, melodic flow. The storm blustering outside was no match for the heart-melting power of Rankin and her band.

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