Gig/Concert: Arkells Fall Classic Tour 2009
Venue: Lee’s Palace, Toronto, ON, Canada
Date: 28 November 2009
In one word: Astounding
Saturday night Arkells played the second of two sold-out shows in Toronto at Lee’s Palace as part of their first ever headlining tour. The five-piece band formed in Hamilton, Ontario left no questions as to why there’s been so much buzz surrounding them this past year. With their high energy performance and connection to their audience, Arkells proved that they do, indeed, deserve the hype.
From the moment they stepped on the stage while sweet Mo-town sounds filled the room, to the strum of the first song of the night, “Heart of the City”, there was no doubt in my mind that these boys were going to deliver exactly what I expected from them: a thoroughly entertaining, captivating, uplifting show.
Playing every song from their 2008 debut album, Jackson Square [the album sharing it’s name with a decaying mall at the heart of downtown Hamilton], the crowd came alive early in the evening when the second song was their radio hit “Ballad of Hugo Chavez.” It was difficult to hear lead vocalist and guitarist Max Kerman as the crowd shouted back to him, “Night of the sun/Hey! Hey! Hey!”
The same can be said for their most well-known song, “Oh, the Boss is Coming!” as everyone in attendance joined together in singing about the realities of working for the man. It seemed fitting hearing Kerman sing, “There’s only room for the sweaty” as the sweat dripping from his bright red windbreaker jacket was visibly evident. It’s the end of November, but it felt like the summer inside Lee’s Palace.
The crowd wasn’t only enjoying their radio hits, though. In a time when it seems we have gone back to the ‘Singles Era’, it was obvious that the audience knew their album from beginning to end. Halfway through “Abigail” the crowd began clapping in unison in which Kerman announced, “This is a first. I like that!” and joined in himself. While I could hear the people surrounding me yelling the part Kerman decided not to sing, “What have we become? My love…” They were so loud I wondered if he could hear them.
It was for the last song of the main set, “John Lennon,” when the crowd participation was at its best. Kerman sang while backing away from the mic “I’m so lost” in which the audience answered in return “and I live just around the corner” without any hesitation. In the middle of the song they stopped playing completely and broke into the Beatles’ classic “Eleanor Rigby.” The audience sang repeatedly “look at all the lonely people”, then soon after the band chimed in to finish the song.
Considering Arkells have only been playing together for three years, the crowd-band connection and interaction was astounding. With the constant singing-along and clapping in unison, the vibe of the audience was one that would be found in an arena, but, instead, it was present in this intimate venue.
I suppose it should not come as a surprise with the amount of energy and playfulness within the band. Each member truly gave it their all. Bassist Nick Dika and guitarist/backing vocalist Mike DeAngelis were bouncing all over the stage. Drummer Tim Oxford never missed a beat, while keyboardist and backing vocalist Dan Griffin pounded on the keys, and often stepped out from behind them to encourage and interact with the audience. Kerman often inserted funny tidbits between lyrics, combined with his dance-like movement while playing guitar made him quite the charming lead singer.
They left me wondering what was in store for the encore. They had already played all their radio hits including their newest “Pullin’ Punches” in their main set. After the audience chanted “encore!” they appeared back on stage and slowed down the pace with the thought-provoking “The Choir” only to speed it up again with “Blueprint.”
Then the band asked Mick Davis, lead singer and guitarist of the second opening band, The Novaks, to join them onstage for the next song. For the first time of the night Kerman dropped the guitar to sing their rendition of the Temptations classic, “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” Watching Kerman strut across the stage as he displayed his best dance moves, best online casino the crowd could not help but dance and sing along as well, and maybe laugh a little.
Kerman then called upon the first opening band, Sandman Viper Command, to also join them onstage for the last song of the evening. Arkells have often been compared to Bruce Springsteen and do not shy away from citing him as an influence, so concluding the show by covering Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” was the perfect ending, and one that left the crowd in high spirits.
In a recent interview conducted in the United States with Sam Roberts, he mentioned Arkells when asked what newer Canadian bands he likes. He declared, “I don’t even want to play shows with them anymore because they’re getting too good too fast.”
I don’t blame him. Arkells are one of Canada’s best kept secrets, though not for much longer.
© Laura Antonelli