By Adam Remmers
A dreampop resurgence has swept the music scene as of late. The sonic landscapes of classic bands such as My Bloody Valentine, Cocteau Twins, Lush, and Slowdive have caught the attention of a younger generation who needs something to drown out their worries of a disgruntled society that is slowly falling apart. The chorus-laden, overdriven guitars that wash over the mix with their bombastic reverb; the steady drone of the ride cymbal that somehow cuts through the mix to steady the band; the anchoring root notes of the bass that perfectly compliments that kick drum; the soft, bittersweet vocal lines that are barely heard underneath the wall of sound– these are all hallmarks of the dreampop experience. Contemporary bands have taken this torch from their forebearers and made the genre pop-focused through an emphasis on danceability and vocal hooks.
Two bands at the forefront of this resurgence, Alvvays and Slow Pulp, graced the stage at Observatory North Park on October 30th. Alvvays was touring in support of their latest album Blue Rev, which picks up where their sophomore album, Antisocialities, left off. The band finds themself settling into their own sonic territory with their meticulously crafted compositions that feature classic synth strings and soaring vocals. Blue Rev should be heralded as frontperson Molly Rankin’s magnum opus of power pop songs. The cliches of classic song structures do not hold down the album, but elevate it to a greater level of artistic achievement. Alvvays finds a way to reinvent the monotonous intro-verse-chorus formula into something fresh and exciting.
Slow Pulp took the stage first and immediately grabbed the attention of the sold out crowd. They opened up their set with “Idaho” off of their latest album, Moveys, which showcased their signature sound. Singer Emily Massey’s overdriven, dark guitar tone perfectly complemented lead guitarist Henry Stoeher’s chimering, bright leads that floated on top of each arrangement. Massey’s vocals were spot on as well, gracefully singing the chorus hook of “I’m losing all the while” that made the crowd feel like they were elevating to an ethereal plane.
However, the highlight of their set was a heavy version of their biggest hit, “High”. The intro featured Massey alone in the spotlight gently singing and softly strumming the guitar, singing about the woes of consuming too much of an unnamed substance that has led to a state of anxiety and paranoia. Massey subtly trails off vocally before regaining herself to exclaim the main refrain “I just think I’m too high” which prompted the band to explode in sound. Drummer Teddy Matthews was hitting the cymbals with such force and intensity that he hovered high above his seat in the frenzy. The crowd couldn’t help but follow bassist Alex Leed’s lead of bobbing their head to the chugged downbeats of distorted guitar chords. All in all, Slow Pulp’s performance was extremely memorable and even rivaled that of the headlining act.
Later in the night, Alvvays arrived and assumed their position on stage. With the musicians in the foreground, the back wall featured VHS projections of winding country roads and psychedelic imagery of distorted shapes that quickly moved across the background. Everything about the stage setup was so eloquently thought out and showed the lengths the band took in creating the best show possible. After a five-year hiatus, Alvvays has grown to understand their image and the best way to portray it in a live setting.
The band opened up by playing the two lead singles from their latest release, “Pharmacist” and “After the Earthquake”, along with “In Undertow” from their sophomore album. From here, it felt like the band, along with the sound mixing, was finally settled in and the show was ready to begin. Rankin expressed her gratitude for the crowd and gave a brief praise for the city of San Diego before leading the band into “Very Online Guy”.
This performance was one of the best I’ve seen in my brief, yet dense, concert-going experience. Throughout the entirety of the song, Rankin crouched down to fiddle with a Memory Man pedal (a device that adds a modulated delay to the input signal, which would be Rankin’s vocals in this case) where she made drastic changes to her vocals. Foreseeing this move, the band attached a camera to the mic stand that projected a live-feed to the back wall, allowing the audience to understand why the vocals sounded so warped and otherworldly. In conjunction with this, Sheridan Riley’s post-punk inspired drumbeat, reminiscent of The Fall, drove the song with its awkward grooves. Lead guitarist Alec O’Hanley opted to play a synth in tandem with his bandmate, keyboardist Kerri MacLellan, rather than his usual Fender Jaguar for the song, adding to the 8-bit aesthetic. The ending featured Rankin suddenly putting her eye underneath the camera that added an additional level of commentary to her woes about reply guys. “Very Online Guy” showcases Alvvays at their best and the live performance felt surreal.
The rest of their setlist was mostly songs from Blue Rev peppered with a few fan favorites from their first two albums. Alvvays did a great job at finding a way to have smooth transitions in between songs and avoiding the awkward silence that loudly presents itself during tuning breaks. Choosing to have the heavenly vocal-organ duo of “Fourth Figure” lead into restlessness of post-grad life in “Archie, Marry Me” is one of the many examples of the band’s attention to momentum when building their setlist.
Alvvays capped off the night with an encore including “Atop A Cake” and “Lottery Noises”. During the former, a small mosh pit broke out in the middle of the crowd which garnered dirty looks from the band. Despite this, the band still seemed to enjoy their time on stage and make the experience worthwhile. Their memorable performance made attendants leave from smiles on their faces and positive chatter of how the band has truly come into their own.
Review by Adam Remmers