Messiah College’s popular B-Sides concert series has been bringing quality indie music to central Pennsylvania for years now. When I graduated in 2011, they had a free show every Wednesday night at 10pm. In the years since, the time has moved to the earlier 9pm, and the frequency reduced to biweekly, but the commitment to raising the cultural bar on the small campus has remained. With recent upgrades to the Larsen Student Union facility and the increased per-show budget provided by decreasing the number of concerts on offer, they may have even improved. An excellent example is their tax day offering, Alvvays. Fresh from an opening slot on The Decemberists’ recent tour, the five-piece Canadian band took their trip home as an opportunity to make up a show originally scheduled for fall that was cancelled due to vocalist/guitarist Molly Rankin’s emergency wisdom tooth removal. Despite pain from yet another wisdom tooth, she and the rest of the band seemed rejuvenated by the youthful energy of a standing-room college show after 20 days of seated theaters. Their hard-driving surf-pop soon had the students and fans bouncing along, whether they knew the buzzed-about songs or not.
Having hit number one on the college radio charts in August, Alvvay’s self-titled debut is tuned perfectly to an Indian summer, but its reverb-drenched harmonies are perhaps just as well suited to a sunny spring day, sounding as if a ’60s girl-group record was left out in the sun a bit too long. Though bassist Brian Murphy’s Hofner bass immediately calls The Beatles to mind, the inspiration does update from time to time, with guitarist Alec O’Hanley operating a drum machine that Phil MacIsaac added to substantially and keyboardist Kerri MacLellan playing some ’80s-esque synthesizers. Regardless of the decade in question, it was certainly a beach party, with all the band members wearing white canvas sneakers and the college crowd with vintage-inspired fashions much in evidence virtually indistinguishable from Beach Blanket Bingo. The band might have been having an even better time than the audience, with Rankin sporadically encouraging the seated students in the back to join those dancing at the front. Songs like “Adult Diversion”, “Party Police”, and “Archie, Marry Me” certainly did a bit of convincing themselves, with even a new song in the encore that the fans that came from off campus hadn’t even heard yet combining ’80s synth-pop and ’60s surf-rock for a flawless party combination.
By Dave Fox | Philadelphia Ambassador | @philosofoxthedj | Beat-Play and Music Without Labels, LLC