Live Review: Alvvays, Hatchie @ The Forum, Melbourne

14 December 2023 | 1:11 pm | Andy Hazel

It’s unlikely 2023 will offer up a better show.

Alvvays @ The Forum

Alvvays @ The Forum (Credit: Andy Hazel)

More Alvvays More Alvvays

Hours before tonight’s concert, Alvvays posted to their Instagram account: “thrilled for melbourne doubleheader: tonite @forummelbourne weds: @northcotetheatre” underneath a photo of the band’s very tired looking singer Molly Rankin, slouched in a chair wearing a loose-fitting football jersey.

The band’s Canadian dry humour is as much a hallmark as their surging guitars, Rankin’s seraphic melodies and ability to pack an album’s worth of ideas into 150 seconds. With songs this good, why chase clicks?

Never the most kinetic of bands, Alvvays bring this wry detachment to their live shows too, along with a fastidious attention to detail. “I am still very hard on myself and think that there's constantly room to get better,” Rankin told The Music. But now, with their most acclaimed, energetic album, Blue Rev, behind them, one that was largely recorded live, can they reciprocate the energy the audience is bringing to them? Would we even want that? 

Before the band can answer those questions, Hatchie graces the stage of a sold-out Forum Theatre. To a largely static crowd, the Queenslander plays a short shoegaze-heavy set. Eschewing her band and switching from bass guitar to electric six-string, Hatchie triggers her backing track, lets her Fender Jaguar shiver out a chord and opens with the title track from her debut EP, Sugar & Spice. Despite the song being dream pop perfection, she rebuilds the track and adds a twang to the vocal melody, as if she is trying out something new.

Also from her EP, the tracks Try and later Sure serve to remind just what a wonderful songwriter Hatchie can be. Songs are simple and catchy with plenty of room for production and interpretation, surely a sign of someone with real talent.

Newer songs Obsessed, as featured in the television series Heartstopper, and Keepsake have a simplicity and generosity to them. As the set progresses her voice gets richer and more dynamic, playing with the melodies to powerful effect. It’s hard not to be won over and, despite muted applause during her show, Hatchie is sent off with loud cheers and a rapturous farewell.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

Pastel pink banners fall on either side of the stage. Lights dim, a screen glows and Alvvays arrive to the strains of Enya’s The River Sings. The packed room explodes with joy. Rankin, wearing the same football jersey we saw on Instagram, smiles, waves, dons her guitar and leaps with energy as the band burst into Pharmacist, the opening track from Blue Rev.

Instantly, there is an energy coursing through the band that was absent in their previous Australian tours and a real sense of elation. There is also a clear sense of personality in the band. Guitarist Alec O'Hanley prowls his corner of the stage, focusing on his deft arpeggios and fluid lead lines. Abbey Blackwell is so composed and controlled every other bassist seems hectically overwrought in comparison. Sheridan Riley beats the drums with an infectious glee while poised keyboardist Kerri MacLellan seems as likely to let you borrow a book as she is to hold a song together with a precisely deployed fizzing melody. The jangle pop band’s secret weapon, MacLellan’s chords anchor and propel the songs in a way that hearing them live makes much more apparent. 

Rankin, O’Hanley and MacLellan each have a small, mounted camera in front of them and throughout the show, images of the members are overlaid with edited videos, a simple but effective device. After The Earthquake, In Undertow and Many Mirrors follow in thrilling succession.

One of the most notable elements of the concert, besides the energy the band is bringing, is the brightness and immediacy of the songs from Blue Rev. Shawn Everett’s production has proven divisive among fans, many of whom shy away from the heavy compression and dense layering of tracks and instrumentation. Tonight, these songs explode with life with Rankin’s soaring and bell-clear voice their centrifugal force.

Belinda Says is a mid-set euphoric high point, while Tile By Tile gets a thrilling rearrangement that sees O’Hanley swing away from the song’s meticulous guitar parts for a distorted solo. From the Smiths-y rush of Pressed to the crunching synths of MacLellan’s extended introduction to Dreams Tonite, and the set-closing medley of Archie, Marry Me and Pomeranian Spinster, Alvvays surge from high to high.

Such is the musicianship, the thoughtful songwriting and imaginative arrangements, it’s hard to think of a band anywhere in the world doing this better. By the time the band return for an encore of Velveteen, Next Of Kin and a barnstorming take on their album-closing Lottery Noises, it’s unlikely 2023 will offer up a better show.

It turns out that yes, we do want this empowered and engaged version of Alvvays. As she waves goodbye, sending us out into a torrential thunderstorm, Rankin’s curtain of platinum blonde hair swings, O’Hanley grins and we cheer even louder. It’s a safe bet many will be buying tickets for tomorrow’s show, ready to do this all over again.