(SXSW 2015 flavoured!) Live Review: Alvvays with Moon King at Newcastle Think Tank – 23rd January 2015

By on Tuesday, 27th January 2015 at 2:00 pm

Tonight, Alvvays return to Newcastle after a triumphant first gig in the city in 2014 supporting Real Estate, where they impressed as much, if not more, as the headliners. But can they handle the pressure of drawing a crowd under their own steam? That most of the tour sold well in advance, the evidence suggests yes. This is how they did it.

First up are Moon King, a Toronto spacey-pop four-piece, based around the complimentary boy-girl vocals of Maddy Wilde and Daniel Benjamin, who, due to Benjamin’s boyish voice, both sing in the same register. He acknowledges that as a reasonably obscure Canadian outfit, the crowd are unlikely to know any of their tunes, which is largely true, but the songs themselves have enough drive and melody to warm up the crowd. Their approach is casual, ramshackle at times – everyone knows the guitar is going out of tune, but they don’t care to tweak it, presumably thinking that it adds to the ‘ambient’ nature of the sound.

Which, to be fair, it does. Benjamin is clad in baggy black pants and t-shirt, teamed with black work boots that are literally falling apart at the seams. Even though at times he seems directionless, moping about the stage, at others he throws some genuine frontman shapes with the mic stand. An intriguing combination of attributes. Moon King trade in slackerism then, with the obligatory climax of hectic guitar and synth sweeps, and it all works nicely as an introduction to the headliners.

Where Moon King are relaxed, Alvvays are (up)tight. Their foundation is Phil MacIsaac’s Ringo Starr-esque drumming: tik-tik-tiki-tik goes his hi-hat, as precise as a metronome, and, on first hearing, as imaginative as a stone. But as one listens deeper, there comes a realisation that, even though Alvvays’ sound is made up of modest contributions – for instance, lead singer Molly Rankin’s guitar is just a thin, fuzzed noise throughout – all the pieces fit into a neat whole that is rather impressive indeed. The only part that isn’t modest is Rankin’s voice; her slight frame and blonde bob are the visual focal point, and her voice similarly dominates the sound.

The crowd liven up considerably when ‘Archie, Marry Me’ unveils its modestly strummed intro chords. And rightly so, for it’s a clever observational ditty, accurately describing the confused interregnum between college and commitment. Blessed with a killer chorus, which alvvays helps. They play the whole album, plus the hazy, surrealist ‘Archie’ B-side ‘Underneath Us’, and a freshly-minted number that continues in the same vein (‘Your Type’). Mention should go to Alec O’Hanley’s guitar work: he treads a clever line between playing in deference to the song, and really breaking out the distortion and feedback that every lead guitarist secretly yearns to show off. By the time the set climaxes with the melancholia of ‘Party Police’, both band and audience are warmed up sufficiently to treat its yearning vocal line with the rapture it deserves.

The surname of each member of Alvvays is, at least superficially, Celtic – Rankin, MacLellan, O’Hanley, Murphy, MacIsaac – which makes more sense of O’Hanley’s comment that on this night on their tour they’re closer to home than they’ve been for a while, which puts their ostensibly Canadian sound into some sort of context. Is there, instinctively buried inside their DNA, the code to generate some Scots arch-pop? They certainly share more familial attributes with Camera Obscura than Bryan Adams. And in their combining their Celtic-pop influences with heavily-reverbed, shoegazy guitar and lo-fi synth washes, they’ve come up with something rather lovely indeed.

Alvvays will be appearing at SXSW 2015, and you can read Carrie’s preview of their showcasing in Austin here. Their current tour in the UK finishes up in Bristol this Saturday; details of this tour are this way.

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