Arkells rise to first headlining-stadium tour

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Indie rock band returns to Kingston

Arkells frontman Max Kerman wants you to do three things at their show: sing, dance and take care of each other. 

At the K-Rock centre last Friday, the Arkells made sure their stadium-filling act delivered on those promises. 

Four albums and countless shows later, the group has evolved from its humble beginnings playing Clark Hall in 2009.  

Breaking into spontaneous covers of “Great Balls of Fire” and “A Hard Day’s Night” throughout the Friday show, the Arkells use their concerts to chart their evolution and pass credit onto their inspirations. This became self-evident during the band’s encore, when Kerman called opener Matt Mays back on stage repeated for the night’s Tragically Hip tribute, a cover of “My Music at Work.”

Telling those in attendance that the recording of the Arkells’ second album took place at the Tragically Hip’s Kingston studio, Kerman dedicated the song to Gord Downie’s passing and promised to “keep singing these songs.”

Solid opener Matt Mays leaned heavily on classic rock influences with extended, head-banging jam sessions between himself and his band to cap off their songs before the Arkells took the stage.

As for the Hip cover, the show was built around these local tributes and fan service. Whether it was inviting a couple attendees up to play guitar and piano on “Private School Girls” or Kerman’s constant engagement with the audience, fans didn’t want the show to end.

As the Arkells gains popularity, this sort of contact with fans helps alleviate the “I liked their earlier stuff” hipster comments that are bound to pop up once they start to draw a bigger crowd. 

It’s a difficult balance between growing musically and keeping longtime fans on board. For their first stadium tour supporting 2016’s Morning Report, the band added a touring horn section — another throwback, this time to the band’s Motown influences.

Likewise, their earlier recordings get occasional updates. The song “Whistleblower” off 2012’s Michigan Left has transitioned from a more traditional indie rock song to a slower, partly-acoustic indictment of the Trump presidency, brought to light with an additional verse the band added following his election. 

Their return to politics is a noted exception from many other contemporary artists, who have made a pointed attempt to be apolitical as they try to draw a larger audience. 

With constant references to Kingston or driving on the 401, the Arkells are one of few rock bands that are still culturally relevant — at least in Canada. The impassioned delivery of pop hooks on the band’s newer songs, and their own frequent admission that a lot of today’s rock music has gotten stale compared to its counterparts in other genres, helps carry their live show.

At the end of the day, it’s fun, danceable music that can draw in students and Kingston locals without feeling over-marketed or pre-packaged. Part of that’s due to the band’s chemistry, part of that’s urgent delivery that still maintains a sense of humour as the band stage dives and works the crowd.

Not bad for a band just finding their footing as a stadium act.

 

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