It was a day of firsts, yesterday. It was my first time at the Bodega Social Club in Nottingham — I was obviously in with the wrong crowd when I lived up this way before, that and the penury of my student status precluded the rampant attending of gigs with a higher admission price than £2. It was the first time I’d seen Alvvays, but given that I believe this is their first UK tour, that’s unsurprising. It was also my first gig, as a spectator and not a performer, since Andy Cairns played the Hare and Hounds in May of 2013.
I can probably be forgiven for the former two, having only heard of Alvvays after their fervent support on BBC 6 Music from December, and having not lived in the East Midlands for almost fifteen years. The latter however is unforgivable. As part of my ‘Not Having Any New Year’s Resolutions™’, I swore to do better.
So, after driving back from work, with a small detour to the dour and forbidding East Midlands Parkway, at the foot of the bleak and imposing Ratcliffe-on-Soar power station, to pick up Claire — thanks East Midlands Trains! — we headed home to tend to the dogs, before catching a bus into Nottingham.
Nottingham gets a lot of stick for being grim and violent, but I want to take some time to dispel that. When I was a student at Loogabarooga, Nottingham had a well-earned rep for being… a bit stabby. I’ve lived here now though for eighteen months or more, and what I returned to was a very welcoming, diverse, and exciting place to be. There’s lots going on, awesome independent shops, and plenty of splendid place to eat and drink.
We arrived at the Bodega and queued briefly, despite being an hour after the doors opened. Claire informed me that the gig was sold out, which was great news. It’s great for the band and great for the venue. I know from experience that playing to an empty room is not only disheartening but also leaves one hungry, and as they’d travelled from the exotic climes of Canada, it would have been a tragedy to see an empty room. No chance of that though!
The small room was packed already. The capacity is something like 250, and we were already near that. Still, we managed to get to the bar and order a couple of tins of fizzy apple juice for the price of a small car.
The support were already on, band called Moon King, pals of Alvvays and Also Toronto-based. I’m not one of these folk who like to turn up at the last possible moment, in order to miss the support acts. There was little we could have done to get there on time — the responsibilities of being a Grown-Up with a job and a dog come first — which I was a little disappointed at, because Moon King smashed it. They played the crowd, like they were their own, something a lot of support acts struggle with. Beautiful, dreamy, lo-fi indie rock drifted over us and set the room to shoe-gazing and swaying slowly.
Sadly, we only got to see a couple of tracks, before the band invited us to join them for a drink at the merch table. At this point, the room was pretty much at capacity and the choice of the large woollen coat was beginning to look somewhat silly. Crammed like beans in a Gregg’s Sausage and Bean melt, we waited.
I did a scan around the room, there was a surprising and heartening mix of folk in there. I’d say they averaged about my age, but there were kids in there as young as maybe 15 or 16 and some old crusties as well 😉 As one might expect, most of the men were bearded, and I’d have been very surprised if there were any fewer than 80% of the folk in there that owned at least one Pavement LP on vinyl.
The first thing I noted, as the band took the stage and, with a short salutation to Nottingham, burst into a number I didn’t know, was the sound. Venues of this size, and indeed larger, invariably suffer from what I like to refer to by the scientific name: “wank sound”. With a band like Alvvays — their psychedelic wash of guitars and synth, heavy on the delay and reverb, and dream-like, almost lazy vocals of Molly Rankin — it’s easy for the vocals and the drums to get washed away by the effects and descend into an unintelligible mess. Every syllable was crystal clear, every picked note of every riff, the fat, driving basslines, and the jaunty grooves from drums. I raised my can of sour, chemical-tasting “cider” towards the sound desk in solidarity with an artist.
Call it narcissism, being a hipster, or probably more correctly being out of touch, but I’m always surprised when a band I’ve only recently got into has not only a large following, but real, proper, hardcore fans. I felt a little bit like a pretender, not knowing the first track. As they started “Next of Kin” though, the dancing started.
Coyly, we were asked if it was true that Nottingham was home to the oldest inn in England. The merry throng directed them to “Ye Old Trip to Jerusalem”, carved into the caves under Nottingham Castle in 1189AD. Apparently they were going to head there after the gig. I wonder if they did…
There’s always one twat. When asking what chocolate they should try while in the UK, some clever-dick shouted, “Yorkie,” entirely for the purpose of recycling the tired and never-funny line, “It’s not for girls,” afterwards. An audible groan issued, and his EPICLOLZ were quenched as the front-lady replied with, “What? It’s not worth it?”
It was a short set, less than an hour, but then the album barely makes it over half an hour. The singles were nicely interspersed with album tracks and covers, ending with album opener “Adult Diversion”, as a closing track to the encore. Rankin remarked at one point, “You guys really like the slow ones, huh?” as we gyrated gently to the lamenting “Party Police”, before waking us back up with a personal favourite, “Archie, Marry Me”.
The biggest sign I’ve had a good night at a gig is that I immediately want to go home, lock myself in my bedroom with a guitar and a notebook and write. Alvvays are great musicians, they put on a great show, and moreover, they were inspiring to watch. The album is great, it’s one of my favourite debuts for years, but where the band really shine is when you can see the musicianship and experience the show.
I may not have seen a band live for eighteen months, but we damn well picked a good opener.
At barely 21:30, we headed back out into the mild winter night for a burger and G&T at Bill’s, before sprinting across the Market Square to barely make it to the bus home. I’m sure my knee will forgive me.