Lead singer Molly Rankin had told Clash on Friday evening that “it just has a little bit more weight, coming into a place like Shepherd’s Bush.” A near flawless performance later, those at the the Empire could hardly have noticed such nerves. Under a year ago occupying a support slot as Real Estate headlined the same venue, the transition of Alvvays to the big leagues that night was as easy as Rankin’s smile.
The band have spent a lot of time on the road since the release of their acclaimed self-titled debut last year. Even so, the lack of studio hours has by no means deadened their creative edge. An hour of so in, giving way to baying applause and returning to the stage, a dreamy solo rendition of Red Planet, followed by a full-band cover of the late Kirsty MacColl’s ‘He’s on the Beach’, were warmly welcomed as the encore drew to a close. But — much more excitingly — a hoard of new material was sprinkled throughout the set. ‘Hey’, one such fresh cut, sandwiched between Next of Kin and Ones Who Love You, was particularly promising, with a sweet atonal riff from guitarist Alec O’Hanley hinting at a rougher new direction for album two. And the young crowd lapped it up, recycling Rankin’s irresistible youthful verve. A blissfully uncaring attitude prevailed, un-tinged by the cool, detached attitude of the clichéd London gig-goer. It was a happy, silly celebration — the band’s most famous chorus ushering hundreds into an exultant cry of proposal (to an unspecified Archie) that they’d never thought they’d make.
A lyricist justly praised for her ability to wax observational about the everyday, Rankin treated her audience to a particularly amusing quip on the night, as well as the stellar set. Apologising beforehand for daring to mention him, the Canadian playfully recounted a recent encounter with surprise idol, Noel Gallagher. Though they did not cross paths at the subway, the words of Adult Diversion rang otherwise all too true as she told her tale, a now almost-famous Rankin going thoroughly unnoticed by the Oasis man.
‘Err, Noel. This is Molly Rankin from Alvvays.’
Eventually introduced, a starry-eyed handshake-come-hug is met with a curtly ‘thanks’ from Gallagher, who proceeds to swagger away. But, before he and his ‘rooster hair’ have disappeared entirely, there is, however, time for him to turn back, as if lost in thought, and enquire:
‘Alvvays – like the Shampoo?’.
Of course, Alvvays and Rankin are yet to scale the heights of the man from Manchester. Still, herself the creative force behind a record nestling at the pinnacle of almost every retrospective album of the year countdown, she might have felt justifiably miffed at the snub. Instead, Rankin’s comedic reply, delivered here with grinning relish, ‘No, like the tampons’, elicited a roar of approval from the crowd loud enough to scare away any High Flying Bird.
And it was this quirkiness and easy charm that punctuated the duration of the night, and not just the watershed set from the headliners. Louisville pop-punk outfit White Reaper, also signed to Polyvinyl records, opened proceedings entirely undaunted by their potentially imposing London setting. With the mannerisms of his bandmates essentially following the rock school rule book, special tribute must be made to White Reaper’s keyboard player, Ryan Hater. Tight black Marines T-shirt, long metalhead hair, eyes that frequently rolled demonically up into his head….and the hips and moves of a Beyoncé backing dancer. A man difficult to hate in his discrepancy, and a figure joyously emblematic of his band — his warm, jangly keys piped up only very occasionally amidst White Reaper’s chugging guitars. He even played synth with his nose: a real treat. No man or woman enjoyed White Reaper’s set quite as much as Ryan Hater, and that is not to say the band departed the stage to anything but applause.
Finally, it would be untoward not to mention that Kevin Morby, Woods bassist and prominent figure in The Babies, was typically brilliant — backed here by Justin Sullivan and the impressive multi-instrumentalist Megan Duffy. At once lulling and ever-building, Morby’s songs escape easy definition, blending breathy slow jams and shoutier, more grisly guitar-driven tracks as the set developed and he ditched his acoustic. Highlights included the haunting, bittersweet debut single, Harlem River and heartfelt The Ballad of Arlo Jones. In a time when most from across the pond favour comparisons to king Mac, Morby offers something of a folk throwback; indeed, it is hard to resist comparisons to undoubted influences such as Neil Young and Dylan. A less frantic set perhaps, but a captivating performance.
Words by Henry Young on the Megabus from Victoria Coach Station to Redruth, Cornwall. You can follow Henry on Twitter and in real life.