[Photo courtesy of Julia Weber]
By Julia Weber, Features Editor
There aren’t that many bands that I’m willing to trek to Chicago for (on a weekday, nonetheless). The last time I made the trip, it was for Wilco’s Yankee Hotel Foxtrot anniversary tour in which I traveled both to Chicago and back in 24 hours during the weekend leading into finals week. Alvvays, the Canadian band that’s been taking the indie scene by storm recently, is one of the few other bands that I find worthy of this kind of journey, especially in the wake of the band’s most recent studio album Blue Rev.
Arriving at our hotel less than half an hour before doors opened, my dad and I headed towards the venue to find a bite to eat before the show. We settled on sushi nearby and made our way into the theater about halfway through Slow Pulp’s set. I found a spot in the crowd and although I was pretty much entirely unfamiliar with their music, I was pleasantly surprised by their performance. There were some pretty serious guitar solos, but it wasn’t mind-blowing. My only takeaway is that I wish I had been more familiar with their music before the show.
The last time that I saw Alvvays was at the Nelsonville Music Festival in 2018 in the wake of their 2017 release of Antisocialites. Set in the midst of a weekend festival outdoors in southeast Ohio, their 2018 performance could not have been more different than their recent show in Chicago. Nonetheless, between lead singer Molly Rankin’s powerful vocals, the band’s fantastic energy, and cohesive stage presence, I felt compelled to see them play once again four years later. I’m so glad that I did.
Just before 8:30 p.m., Alvvays prefaced their arrival on stage with “The River Sings” by Enya. The band took the stage soon after and started their set off with the leading track off Blue Rev titled “Pharmacist.” Merely five minutes into the show, Rankin abruptly stopped during “After the Earthquake” to alert security that someone in the audience needed attention. Given that the theater seemed oversold and was absolutely packed to the brim with attendees, I wasn’t surprised by this. However, nonetheless always concerning when an audience member has an emergency, especially so soon in the set, but Rankin did a great job of handling the situation calmly and responsibly.
Later in the set, the band performed “Very Online Guy” off of their latest album. Alvvays’ fan base, in part, constitutes Very Online Guys (myself included), which made their performance of the song pretty fascinating to watch. “We all know everything that he says and does, leave your location on and just follow the buzz / He’s only one filter away, he’s only one follow, one filter away,” Rankin sang to a crowd of concert-goers recording portions of the song on their phones. I don’t think I or Alvvays necessarily intend to imply that being a Very Online Guy is a bad thing, but it did feel like a rather ironic moment in the show.
The Riviera Theatre itself was also noteworthy. It was constructed in 1917 and transformed into a nightclub in 1986 per the venue’s website, but the theater is visibly due for another major renovation. I wasn’t personally impacted by the peeling paint or the mildly terrifying restrooms, but there was one major flaw that seriously affected my experience. The Riviera is primarily standing-only and the floor is structured so that the front row is the highest point in the venue – everything onwards slopes downward, leaving almost everyone unable to actually see the artist. In the fourth row, I caught a glimpse of Rankin’s hair at one point, but that was about it.
Another highlight of the night was their performance of “Pomeranian Spinster” off their newest album. “Pomeranian Spinster” is my favorite track off Blue Rev and their live rendition was nothing short of fantastic. With fast, abstracted visuals behind the band and a captivated crowd in front, the song exemplified the latest era of Alvvays: action-packed, passionate and unapologetic.
Alvvays ended their set with “Saved by a Waif” from Antisocialites. Moments later, the band returned for their encore and performed “Atop a Cake” and “Next of Kin,” both from their 2014 self-titled album.
Overall, I’m really glad that I went to see Alvvays, especially given their five year hiatus between albums. The venue and crowd left much to be desired, but Alvvays makes up for it in pure talent, technical skill and passion during their live performances. In the wake of their phenomenal new album Blue Rev, I’m excited to see where Alvvays will go from here.