Alvvays Win Over Hipsters’ Hearts, Feet Sunday at Arts Fest

From left, Alec O'Hanley, Phil MacIsaac, Molly Rankin, and Brian Murphy. photo: Christopher Maggio.

From left, Alec O’Hanley, Phil MacIsaac, Molly Rankin, and Brian Murphy. photo: Christopher Maggio.

Alvvays’ Sunday evening, headlining concert at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival recalled the Seinfeld episode where Jerry’s agent books him a two-hour middle school assembly. “Nine minutes,” George tells him after timing his routine. Similarly, Alvvays, who have only a nine-track debut album under their belt, were —according to the program—scheduled to perform for one and a half hours. Although they began promptly at 7:30, their show concluded at 8:21. Unsurprising for those familiar with the Toronto quintet’s discography. Perhaps slightly disappointing for those who weren’t. But, boy, either way, those 51 minutes were packed with indie-pop jingle jangle.

Part of the set’s strength had to do with the strength of that debut, which topped many a best-of list in 2014. Rolling Stone called the self-titled release “a sharply drawn indie-pop wonder.” The guitars chime. The keyboards resound. And frontwoman Molly Rankin’s sugary vocals add an ironic dimension to her criticisms of heartbreak and matrimony.

The band opened with a new song, not yet recorded. What easily could have been a misstep proved effective at getting the crowd’s attention, thanks to the song’s punk-rockish drive. Then came “Next of Kin,” the first cut of the evening from their debut, followed by “The Agency Group,” also from that album.

Molly Rankin on vocals and guitar. photo Christopher Maggio.

Molly Rankin on vocals and guitar. photo: Christopher Maggio.

Between songs, Rankin, looking every bit the indie darling with her platinum blonde hair and powder-blue guitar, addressed the crowd. She thanked them for not only coming but also standing, and she complimented Pittsburgh’s “main drag.” She also gave her regrets that they was unable to play Pittsburgh earlier. “We got rejected,” she said, alluding to a canceled spot opening for The Decemberists this March at the Benedum Center. (The border agent, after checking their NAFTA paperwork, said their T-shirts had to be made in the U.S.A. Not wanting to pitch the merch, the band missed the show.)

Close to the stage, the music sounded compressed. A little farther back, though, the individual instruments were much easier to discern. Kerri MacLellan’s keys on “Ones Who Love You” rippled across the Point State Park lawn like the cool evening breeze, and Rankin enunciated every word of advice regarding what kind of people one should love.

Kerri MacLellan on keys. photo: Christopher Maggio.

Kerri MacLellan on keys. photo: Christopher Maggio.

Just when it seemed like Alvvays could have learned some dance moves from Jenny Lewis, who headlined Friday evening, they launched into their alt radio hit, “Archie, Marry Me.” Rankin’s blonde hair began to bob, and Alec O’Hanley kicked in unison to his guitar riffs. You’ve gotta hand it to them; with such a short discography but long touring schedule, it would be easy to get bored. Yet Rankin still gave a “YEAH!” before the bridge, and Phil MacIsaac added some catchy drum fills absent from the studio version. “Underneath Us” came next. Appropriate, as it was the B-side to a limited-edition cassette of “Archie, Marry Me.”

Up until now, the hipster audience was doing The Stand Still. Another new song changed that. “We might have gone too far” went its chorus, with Rankin smooshing “we might” into a hooky yodel. “I never heard of them before,” said the dude behind me. “But this is, like, really pleasant.” Unlike Jerry’s ill-fated assembly, this concert was not going to end in boos. By the time Alvvays played “He’s on the Beach,” a Kirsty MacColl cover, the shirtless man to my left was dancing with his dreadlocked gal, and the brunette to my right was dancing with her blue-haired friend.

Alec O'Hanley and Molly Rankin jamming on guitars. photo: Christopher Maggio

Alec O’Hanley and Molly Rankin jamming on guitars. photo: Christopher Maggio

“Atop a Cake” kept up the momentum as did “Party Police.” Though a slower number, the latter song was buoyed by those drum fills, Brian Murphy’s bass, and keyboards which sounded more like crescendoing violins. After playing “Adult Diversion,” the group’s other big hit, Rankin again thanked the audience for standing and announced they would  “find some of the waffle cones that have been wafting up for the whole set.” I think she smelled the kettle corn, but regardless, the scent added a pleasant olfactory layer to the auditory experience. Visuals were lacking for this concert, though each member was dressed in hipster Technicolor and, whether intentional or not, the simple red and blue stage lighting harked to the color scheme of their album cover.

Before departing, Alvvays played one last new song, “New Haircut.” The lyrics describe a man who tries to trade his locks for sophistication and comes out looking like “a little boy.” The audience applauded and cheered and many people hung around until the house music began to play—scratching all hopes for an encore. Alvvays may have been hungry for waffle cones, but Pittsburghers weren’t quite satiated on the indie pop. However, judging from the new songs played Sunday evening, their sophomore album should be something to look forward to.

Christopher Maggio is a Pittsburgh writer. He enjoys live music and never misses the Three Rivers Arts Festival.